American Flyer’s Connection to a True American Flyer – Charles Lindbergh
By Leon Sweet
On May 20/21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew into history by being the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. His historic flight changed the world’s view of aviation and made him an instant celebrity. Upon his arrival in Washington on June 11, 1927, the US Postal Service honored his flight with an airmail stamp that showed his plane and the route across the Atlantic.
At the time the Postal Service was unable to feature portraits of living persons on stamps, so they bypassed that provision by featuring his last name and calling it a Lindbergh Air Mail stamp. After the festivities in Washington and New York City, Lindbergh left on a 48 State tour (as there were only 48 states in 1927) and visited 92 cities.
Obviously living back in the golden era of toy trains, the Lindbergh family could have had any type of prewar train that they wanted and I am not aware of the Lindbergh family having or not having any toy trains. The Lindbergh association with American Flyer appears to be an unsanctioned association that capitalized on his famous flight.
On Page 41 of American Flyer’s 1928 catalog is a full page devoted to the new Empire Express Monoplane – Spirit of America. The first line of text reads – An American Flyer Creation! Created to meet the youngsters’ demand for toys like “Lindy’s”.
The obvious association with Lindbergh’s flight is in the American Flyer promoting it as a toy like Lindy’s and naming of the plane Spirit of America, which is almost identical to the Spirit of St. Louis that Lindbergh named his plane in appreciation to the investors from St. Louis who financed his flight. In 1929 the American Flyer catalog featured 4 airplanes, including the Spirit of America and describes the plane as similar to “Lindy’s” famous ship.
Most collectors today would assume that this was the only association of the toy with Lindbergh; however, they would be wrong. A couple of years ago I happened across an original box for the Empire Express Spirit of America airplane. The box had been folded flat, with the seam running along the length of the box being detached. Having never seen the original box, I pounced on it and was rewarded with the exceptional graphics which were obviously used to further promote the Lindbergh connection.
The side showing the plane with a representation of New York City on the left and Paris on the right is fantastic and states New York to Paris – 33 ½ hours, which is such an obvious link to the historic flight, yet never mentions Lindbergh by name. The other side, which shows “Fun Making Features” is nearly identical to the artwork shown in the 1928 American Flyer catalog. The end of the box designed to be opened (other end was not designed to be opened) features another picture of the plane and calls it Overseas Monoplane Spirit of America.
The box is truly unique as it was specific for this model. It is my understanding that the later airplanes came in plain cardboard boxes that were also used for American Flyer wooden bridges of the era, with the number of the plane being rubber stamped on them.