She is America’s first licensed female pilot – an inspiration in her time, and one of the most prestigious figures in world aviation history.
On April 16, 1912, Harriet Quimby flew over the English Channel, from Dover, England to Calais, France. She was the first woman in the world to perform what was then, one of the most daring flight endeavors ever. The story behind the scenes shows a determined woman: she wanted the fame of being the first woman pilot to follow Luis Bleriot’s success (who was the first man to fly over the English Channel, in his Bleriot monoplane). Fearful that a European woman would beat her to the punch, Harriet kept her plans secret. Bad weather grounded her for several days before the flight, and when she finally made it; then ironically, her success was overshadowed by the tragic news of the Titanic sinking.
This story shows that sometimes our plans of greatness or notoriety can be obscured by unexpected events. Harriet Quimby’s flight’s historical importance cannot be denied, however, at the time, her plans of becoming as famous as Luis Bleriot failed, because the media covered more the news of a tragedy than the event of a woman’s personal (and amazing) accomplishment. In her field, she was celebrated as a pioneer, the world, however, failed to honor her as she deserved. We remember her flight, after 97 years with wonder and admiration: a lady journalist who became America’s first lady of the air in August 1911.
History teaches us valuable lessons many times: no matter how great a dream, sometimes the world is busy looking in the other direction. This story reminded me of many customers who released great products, as the media chose to covers something else – not necessarily a competitor, but a cooler gadget, the news of the fall of an industry giant, and so on. We cannot always predict what the future brings, but we can follow Harriet’s example and never give up on our dreams. The world will eventually remember one way or another. The world will eventually celebrate greatness too, but the dream has to be daring, unique and extraordinary.
Harriet Quimby had a vision and the determination to succeed. She wanted fame: she designed her own purple satin flying costume; she was the first to become a certified female pilot, before her friend Matilde Moisant; she kept her plans to fly over the English Channel secret, so that no other woman can be the first. The only thing Harriet failed to secure was proper news coverage – in the light of the events of the time, even the best PR campaign would have failed anyway. Today, it is perhaps even more appropriate to remember words from the pen of none other Robert Burns via Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men:
“Even the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.”