First Across the Continent

A 100th anniversary remembrance of Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz.

When Calbraith Perry Rodgers took off from New York on September 17, 1911, bound for California, he blazed a sky trail that hundreds of thousands would follow. (NASM SI-2004-30408)
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The trip across the country with Cal changed my life. For one thing, I met my future wife. Two years after Cal’s death, his widow married me. We often talk about the man she loved and I wanted so badly to emulate.

For another, I learned to fly. Although Cal died before he could teach me, I got my pilot’s license, number 175, in October 1912.

I got something else out of that trip that’s harder to put into words. There were many times when we didn’t think Cal could make it, and some of us—his mother, especially—wanted him to quit. But he didn’t. People remember Louis Blériot for flying across the English Channel in 1909 and Charles Lindbergh for flying across the Atlantic in 1927, and those were important flights. But they didn’t take 49 days. And I think it’s about time America remembered Cal Rodgers.

Howard Eisenberg has been writing magazine articles and books for 60 years, and hopes his next phone call will be from a movie producer asking, “How about writing me a Cal Rodgers screenplay?”

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