May 20, 1927: Charles Lindbergh embarks from New York on a nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” tradition began when they graced the American aviator Charles Lindbergh with the title, in honor of his momentous solo flight from New York to Paris. Prior to this flight, this native of Detroit had trained as a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Forces and worked as a deliverer of airmail. In fact, after his 1927 flight, Lindbergh would use his newly-acquired celebrity status to promote the U.S. Air Mail Service across Latin America. 

Eight years prior, a French-American hotel owner named Raymond Orteig offered up $25,000 (over $300,000 in today’s money) to any pilot who could fly nonstop from New York to Paris, or vice-versa. At this time, aviation technology was still too primitive for any serious attempts to be made, and several well-known pilots were even killed or lost in their endeavors. By the mid-1920s, however, technology had advanced enough so that even an unknown U.S. Air Mail employee could seek to achieve the task.

In 1927, twenty-five-year-old Charles Lindbergh set off from New York in the Spirit of St. Louis, and he was flyingsolo - though this was not one of Orteig’s requirements. When he landed in Paris thirty-three hours later to meet some 150,000 spectators, Lindbergh had not only won his prize but international fame as well. “Lucky Lindy” was later awarded the Medal of Honor and a Congressional Gold Medal for his exploits. 

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