HomeThis week in historyFirst woman crosses the English Channel on 16 April 1912

First woman crosses the English Channel on 16 April 1912


The first woman to cross the English channel on this day 16 April 1912. 110 years ago today Harriet Quimby made the trip from Dover to France in her tiny Bleriot monoplane, an early plane first made in 1909. The airplanes of the early 1900s were much less streamlined than those today, constructed out of wood, canvas and piano wire.

Harriet had been flying for less than a year when she crossed the channel. She was the first woman to have flying lessons when she first started learning in May 1911. It was chance that led her to this career in aviation, and a pioneer for future female pilots. Harriet was a successful theater critic, which brought her into contact with a flying instructor that would begin her career. She received her pilot’s license in August 1911, just three months after her first lesson, and began a short-lived career in the industry.

Harriet Quimby, the first woman to cross the channel in her plane. Courtesy of Lifesatrip.ca

Pilots were few and far between in this era of aviation. Quimby herself was only the 37th person in the United States to receive a pilot’s license. In the media she was known as the ‘China doll’ due to her petite stature and pale skin, and capitalized on this new-found fame. She drew crowds wherever she went, and as part of an exhibition team travelled across the states and to Mexico, earning as much as $1500 in appearance fees.

On the day of Harriet’s flight, she took off early in the morning to avoid strong winds. The trip from Dover to Calais was only 25 miles, however due to weather conditions, Harriet could barely see where she was going, relying solely upon her compass for parts of the trip. She made the trip in just under one hour and landed on a beach about 25 miles from Calais.

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