When Lucky Lindy Came To Reno

Jan 17, 2018

Charles Lindbergh arriving at the Reno air field in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, on September 19, 1927
Credit Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.

Air travel is so common these days that it’s easy to focus on the negative, from high fares and luggage fees to cramped seating and annoying delays. Historian Alicia Barber recaptures some of the wonder that accompanied early flight in this segment of Time & Place.

Charles Lindbergh was a little-known pilot for the U.S. Air Mail in May of 1927 when he set off on what would become the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. His record-setting trip from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis not only made Lindbergh an instant celebrity, but it generated enormous excitement about the future of aviation.

A few months later, Lindbergh kicked off a three-month tour of all 48 states in his famous monoplane. At the time, Reno had a small airfield located two miles south of town that had been founded in 1920 when the U.S. government first introduced cross-country air mail service.  The field and its hangar were leased by the Boeing company, one of the private contractors hired to carry the mail.

Charles Lindbergh (perched on the back seat) riding in the lead car on the way from the air field to Idlewild Park on September 19, 1927.
Credit Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.

When Lindbergh flew into Reno from Sacramento on the afternoon of September 19th, one of the thousands of spectators there to watch him land was eleven-year-old Agnes Heidtman, whose family lived near the field and knew its manager. Interviewed by Stephen Davis in 1990, she remembered getting special access to the famous pilot.

“The airport manager liked us kids, and he said, ‘Come on over and you’ll get to meet him.’ And when he got off the plane, the manager introduced us to Lindbergh, and [we] shook hands with him. And then he showed us the Spirit of St. Louis and let us take pictures. That was a thrill, because you know, an airplane at that time, it was a thrill to even see it come in, for the kids. That was a real special day for all of us.”

It was a thrill for the entire community. Lindbergh jumped in a car with Reno’s mayor, and hundreds of residents followed him in their cars to Idlewild Park, where he gave a rousing speech promoting aviation and encouraging the development of better and larger airports.

His words struck a chord with the Boeing company. Just over a year later, in 1928, the company bought some land three miles east of the airfield and opened a new one large enough to land their new twelve-seater passenger planes. Named Hubbard Field after a Boeing executive, it gradually expanded into today’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport. And the only thing you’ll see flying these days at the old airfield, now the Washoe County Golf Course, are lots of golf balls and an occasional flock of geese.

Oral history clips for this segment were provided by the Special Collections Department of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.