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This week in history: Aviator Ruth Law breaks record flying from Chicago to New York

On Nov. 19, 1916, Law took off from Chicago, looking to break the record for longest non-stop flight. The distance between Chicago and her destination? 590 miles.

Aviator Ruth Law sits in her plane in a field in Chicago.
Aviator Ruth Law sits in her plane in a field in Chicago. Two technicians are standing by Law and looking at the plane, and a group of men is standing behind the plane’s wing. On November 19, 1916, Law flew from Chicago to New York City in one day, breaking a record.
From the Sun-Times archives

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

As the saying goes, “Don’t meet your heroes.” Ruth Law learned that lesson the hard way.

In 1912, the budding aviator, who broke a record when she flew from Chicago to New York on Nov. 19, 1916, asked Orville Wright to teach her how to fly, according to Eliza McGraw of Smithsonian Magazine. Wright refused. He didn’t believe women could understand the mechanics of flying a plane.

Four years later, Law proved him very wrong. On Nov. 20, 1916 — the day she touched down in New York City — the Chicago Daily News ran her picture on the front page under the headline: “Woman aviator ends trip in New York.”

The Daily News didn’t publish on Sundays, and as Nov. 19 fell on a Sunday that year, no coverage of Law’s departure appeared in the paper. However, the paper did send a photographer, who captured the image above and several others.

Law took off from Chicago on Nov. 19 and flew 590 miles all the way to Hornell and Binghamton, according to a Daily News report on Nov. 20. The next day, she flew to New York City where she made a triumphant landing on Governor’s Island, where General Leonard Wood and his wife greeted her.

“Little girl, you beat them all,” he said to her, according to McGraw.

The Daily News estimated Law’s speed to be 92 mph, which the board members of the Aero Club of America, who were present when she landed, accepted.

Front page of the Chicago Daily News on Nov. 20, 1916.
The front page of the Chicago Daily News on Nov. 20, 1916.
From the Sun-Times archives

When she climbed out of the plane, Law “was considerably chilled and was taken to the house of one of the officers at the post to recuperate,” the Daily News said. “She had little to say about her flight except that she had to fly much lower than she wished because of the haze.”

The aviator’s flight could not have been an easy or pleasant one. Details published in the Daily News reveal the tough conditions Law endured, starting with the type of airplane. Law flew in a “small, antiquated biplane of military scout type.” Comparatively, the previous record holder Victor Carlstrom flew in a 200-horsepower biplane, though he only flew 450 miles, the paper noted.

Law also stayed up in the air longer than Carlstrom. In total, it took her nine hours and one minute to complete her full flight, with the last two hours and 20 minutes completed on Nov. 20, the Daily News said. Carlstrom’s shorter trip was done in eight hours and 24 minutes.

Perhaps most impressively, the aviatrix, as the press often called female pilots back then, steered from the pilot’s seat on the “projection in front of the plane,” unlike Carlstrom, who was shielded in the cockpit, the paper said. For the duration of her flight, Law faced the wind head on, and it’s not surprising that she landed in New York feeling chilled.

“Miss Law deserves great credit for this flight,” a statement from the Aero Club said. “She has made an extraordinary record.”