It would be here that Orteig would host a meeting of dignitaries that were honouring the famed aviator Eddie Rickenbacker in 1919. The group were advancing the cause of aviation and that is when Orteig, the one time bus boy made an offer that would see better flying communications between the US and Europe, or more to the point, from New York to Paris. He offered $25,000 to the first person from any country that flew non stop between the two points, going in either direction.
And "Slim" as he was known in those days, was quite interested in the contest. He'd been born in Detroit but raised in Michigan. By the age of 18 he was studying engineering at university but soon found out he was more interested in flying machines and after 2 yrs of higher education he left to become a stuntman in barnstorming shows across five states. He'd even walk on the wings in some shows.
Slim would get more serious when he got the call in 1924 to report for military training and so he elected to join the air reserves. There were over 100 in the class. Eighteen made it with Slim being the first. But then licensed to fly, he found out the air force was not looking for any flyers. So he elected to stay in the air reserves... and by the time he got out he was a Brig. General many a year later. But that was all part time work. He needed a job... and barnstorming was it. After a while he broke away from this and had his own show and even taught others how to fly.
Soon a job came along as a mailman... in a plane... delivering the mail from St Louis to Chicago. It would be whilst so employed that Slim would here about the Orteig offer of a whopping $25,000 prize to make that first flight non stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris..or in reverse. It was an old contest but the prize was yet to be claimed. So he started to make some plans. He only had $2000 but needed $8,000. Trying all the usual sources, as he was not well known or established, raising funds became a problem. But then he met some folks that believed in his plan. Others, including some very big names like Commander Byrd (whom will appear in this space at a later date) and Sikorsky (helicopters) and Fokker (airplanes) and others were making their own planes calling for heavy engines and planes with two pilots. But Slim was thinker much smaller... the smallest of planes that could throw out all the non-essentials, and carry 5 or 600 pounds of fuel and only one pilot.
He found willing investors eventually and also a company that was small but aggressive and willing to sit at the table with him to design what he felt he needed.
As the plane was being built Slim was getting more and more nervous. Several others had made the attempt, six had been killed, and the contest was not going to last forever.
But then the plane was finally finished. Of course the weather was bad. Several days would be lost waiting for clouds and storm to sort out and finally the word came down that the weather over the Atlantic was improving... so Slim packed up his two canteens of water and four sandwiches and set off to make a world record. His own charts and calculations would soon be put to the test. In was very early am on May 20th 1927 when he left New York and he flew over New England and soon could see the shores of Nova Scotia. Then came the shores of Newfoundland and then the water, and more water and more water still. He had several problems in flight, he tried to climb over clouds but at times icing became a problem so he had to drop down and ride them out. But at other times he flew as high as 10,000 ft and still others as low as 10 ft over very rough ocean waves. For hours he was flying blind in fogs and just guts kept him going in what he assumed was the right direction... but then the clouds opened up and he saw a few boats below so he dipped down, and like any driver, hollered out... which way to Ireland. They of course probably could not hear... or understand and just looked back at him. The came Ireland, then England and finally France.
But then another problem. He had never seen the airport before and had no idea what to look for. He followed his charts and all of a sudden he could see masses of lights outlining a very large field. He flew around it several times before finally identifying large huts that he felt were hangers, so he dipped down and into the field he landed. All the lights were not from the airport. There were from the about 150,000 who drove out to greet him. They actually hauled him out of the plane and carrying him about the field for about 1/2 hour before letting him drop from above their heads to the ground. It had been 33 hours since he last stood on ground. And he still had about 85 gallons of fuel left.
One would think that he wanted to find a tree and look after numerous calls of nature, but the stories don't mention this.
The following day he was greeted at the embassy and by another guest of honour who had just arrived hours before Slim. His name was Raymond Orteig, He was holidaying in France at the time and just had received a wire from his son in the US that Slim was on his way. Their meet for the first time, in Paris, was on the very anniversary of the proposing on the contest 8 years earlier.
Slim soon would be travelling around the world talking about his adventures and of course promoting all things aeronautic en-route. Back in the US he would then tour 49 states in 3 months, travel some 1,290 miles in parades and giver 147 speeches to millions of Americans.
In March of 1928 President Woodrow Wilson presented the Medal of Honor to Slim at the Whitehouse in Washington DC.
This medal, now at the Missouri History Museum at St Louis, is pictured above as is the President giving the medal to Slim, who was quit tall and slim as you can see.