Historical Watches: The Amelia Earhart Watch
Astronaut Shannon Walker's flight to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft in June of 2010 carried a special piece of horological history into space. Flying alongside Walker was the watch of Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who was the first woman to fly as a passenger across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart later became the first woman to pilot a plane across that same ocean in a solo flight. The watch arrived at the International Space Station with Walker aboard the on June 17, 2010, 82 years to the day after Earhart's first trans-Atlantic flight.
Earhart was one of the first female pilots and was best known for her two trans-Atlantic flights. She was also a charter member and the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries that has more than 5,500 members worldwide. While there are other female pilot organizations in various states and countries, nearly all women of achievement in aviation are past or current members of The Ninety-Nines. Astronaut Shannon Walker is among those women.
Earhart wore the watch during her two trans-Atlantic flights, “one as a passenger and one as a solo flight,” said Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety-Nines and member for 39 years. The watch itself is a Longines one-button, two-register chronograph, and is inscribed on the back: "This watch was worn by Amelia Earhart on her two transatlantic flights and presented by her to H.G.S.Jr just before her death."
The "H.G.S.Jr" refers to H. Gordon Selfridge Jr., owner of the famed London department store. Selfridge had met Earhart in London after her 1932 crossing when she realized she would need appropriate clothing for public appearances. She quickly earned both the friendship and enormous admiration of Selfridge, which led to him giving her a special watch which she was wearing on her presumed-fatal flight. She reciprocated by giving Selfridge the watch she had worn on both her previous Atlantic crossings. Selfridge's account of the exchange of watches is detailed in George Palmer Putnam's book "Soaring Wings".
The watch was given by Selfridge to Fay Gillis Wells, a charter member of The Ninety-Nines. According to Wells, "Gordon Selfridge gave me the watch when we were working on the Amelia Earhart Commemorative Stamp ceremony in 1963." Wells kept the watch in her Washington, D.C., apartment until she founded the Forest of Friendship to honor other individuals in aviation. She needed funds for the Forest of Friendship in Amelia’s hometown of Atchison, Kansas, so the watch was auctioned off,” said Kerwin, who bought the watch at the auction.
After its return from space, the watch was placed on display in The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City.