NMIH acquires telegram tied to historic Lindbergh flight

On May 21, 1927 famed aviator Charles Lindbergh completed the world’s first nonstop transatlantic flight.  In a Ryan NYP monoplane named Spirit of St. Louis, powered by a J-5C Wright Whirlwind radial engine, he flew for 33 ½ hours from New York to Paris.  Lindbergh’s accomplishment took the world by storm and immediately launched him into celebrity status across the globe.  The day after Lindbergh completed his flight, Wright Aeronautical, the makers of the plane’s engine sent a Western Union telegram to Bethlehem Steel congratulating them on their accomplishments in creating parts of the engine that Lindbergh used in the flight. The steel for Lindbergh’s engine was made in the Basic Open Hearth furnace in Bethlehem and poured into treated molds to create the engine pieces.  

The telegram reads,

“Connecting rods and other parts of Captain Lindberghs Wright Whirlwind engine were made from forgings furnished by you. For thirty three and one half hours Captain Lindbergh’s life depended on the quality of steel in your forgings and they did not fail him.

Copies of the telegram were made after the historic flight, in June 1927, and compiled in a booklet given to employees called “Bethlehem Plant Inspection June 1927.” It was a commemorative booklet highlighting Bethlehem Steel’s role in the historic flight that included photos of Lindbergh with the Spirit of St. Louis, a map of his flight path, a copy of the telegram, photos of the same sorts of forged connecting rods that were used on the plane, and explanations of the forging process.

Interestingly, the telegram was received and signed the day after, on May 23rd, by Earnshaw Cook, then a rising 27 year old mechanical engineer employed by Bethlehem Steel who later became nationally and internationally renowned in his own right.  After graduating from Princeton University in 1921 he received an engineering degree from Boston Tech in 1922 and came to Bethlehem Steel as a student.  After working for two years he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent and was later put in charge of the Research Department at the Open Hearth where he developed a new method of steelmaking.  Afterwards he was transferred for Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point facility to head up their newly opened Research Department.  Later, in 1931, he was appointed as the plant’s metallurgist.  He later left Bethlehem Steel for the American Brake Shoe Company where he eventually became chief metallurgist.

In the 40s he was appointed as a consulting metallurgist to the Kellex Corporation, who was working in New York City on the Manhattan Project, developing the atomic bomb.  He later went on to work as a mechanical engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University. Interestingly enough, it was baseball that made Cook most famous. Cook was one of the earliest researchers of sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball through statistics.  His research yielded the 1964 book Percentage Baseball, which at the time was widely dismissed amongst professional baseball organizations. Over time the idea of using statistics in baseball became an accepted method, culminating in perhaps the most famous proponent of the practice with Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, who inspired the Hollywood hit movie Moneyball. As a result of Cook’s early work on sabermetrics, his slide rule used in his statistical research now resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The telegram was donated by James Stetler of Bethlehem, PA. The artifact was the property of his father-in-law, Garvin E. Kram, who was a Navy veteran and worked in the sales department for the Casting and Forgings department at Bethlehem Steel for 31 years. After he passed away in 2009 his family discovered the telegram in his possessions.


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