Earl Leland "Smitty" Smith was born on April 12, 1895 in Greenfield, Illinois to Samuel G. Smith and Octavia Smith (née Lister). He was the oldest of eight children.

As a young man, Smith worked as a mechanic for pilot Tony Jannus; Jannus took Smith on his first flight in October of 1912. When World War I began, Smith attempted to join the Air Force to become a pilot; however, his application was rejected. Smith sought out Tommy Weber for lessons to become a pilot and Weber became his flying instructor. Smith's first solo flight was on June 11, 1921.

Smith served as a pilot, flight instructor, and mechanic for various companies during his lifetime. He had his own flying service in Springfield, Illinois from 1924–1925 and he offered passenger flights and student instruction during this time.

In June of 1931, Smith had over 4500 hours and ten years of flying without a single accident. This impressive record only lasted a few more months before he had his first plane crash on September 1, 1931. Smith's accident occurred in Baltimore, Maryland when his plane malfunctioned and he crashed into a house. The accident left him with a crushed vertebra, which meant he stayed in a hospital to recover for over two and a half months. He continued flying for Ludington Airline after his recovery and worked for the company until February 1933.

Smith worked for Eastern Air Transport and flew the Washington to New York route from February to June of 1933. Then he opened his own mechanic shop in Washington D.C., where he repaired motors and airplanes. The next year, he became a pilot and operations manager for Condor Peruana de Aviacion in Lima, Peru. He was a pilot for Beckman Flying Service (a sightseeing airline) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from July to December of 1934.

Smith's long career in aviation brought him into contact with many famous individuals. These celebrities include famous pilots—namely Charles Lindbergh (whom Smith called "Slim") and Amelia Earhart. Smith also wrote letters to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President Richard Nixon.

Earl Smith died on November 3, 1973 in Fort Myers, Florida. He was buried in Virden Cemetary in Virden, Illinois.

Recent Submissions

  • Guide to the Earl L. Smith Collection 

    Lambert, Elisabeth (2016-08-05)
    Earl Smith was a pilot, mechanic, and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigator who flew the first transcontinental rail-air trip. The collection contains photographs of documents, pictures, and related materials. These ...