Dec. 10, 1911: Cal Rodgers completes first flight across U.S.

Kelly O'Mara
December 10, 2013

Cal Rodgers’ landing at Long Beach, Calif., marked the successful end of the first transcontinental flight across the U.S. While today the trip from New York City to the Los Angeles area takes just six hours, it took Rodgers 84 days in 1911.

In 1910, publisher William Randolph Hearst had offered a $50,000 prize to the first person to fly across the country in less than 30 days. This prompted Rodgers to get outside financial backing to make the effort. Armour and Company, which was introducing a new grape-flavored soft drink, Vin Fiz, agreed to pay Rodgers $5 for every mile he flew east of the Mississippi River and $4 for every mile west. In exchange, Rodgers emblazoned his Wright Model EX plane with the Vin Fiz logo – marking another first: the first time an aircraft was used for advertising (the airplane is now at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC).

After leaving New York in September, Rodgers had to land 70 different times — including at least 16 crashes, some of which put him in the hospital. Forty-nine days later, he landed in Pasadena – missing out on the $50,000 prize. It took him another month to travel from Pasadena to Long Beach to wet his wheels in the Pacific Ocean as a crowd of supporters cheered him on.

Today, a flight from New York to California is far less perilous — and frequent direct flights mean zero stops along the way.