Amelia Earhart and Neta Snook, early women pilots with a Chrysler legacy

Amelia - Did You Do It?

For years it’s been reported that Plymouth’s first spokeswoman was none other than Amelia Earhart. Historian Don Butler (author of the now out-of-print Plymouth-DeSoto Story) wrote, “In New York City’s Madison Square Garden the new Plymouth made its debut with the assistance of Amelia Earhart, who had recently become the first woman to make a solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Amelia Earhart and Chrysler 75Considering this was the introduction date of a brand new automobile line from the Chrysler Corporation and that it was being introduced by one of the most famous personalities of the era, one would think all kinds of photographs commemorating this event would be in existence. Despite searches of the Chrysler Historical photo archives, as well as the New York Public Library, no photos have surfaced. Could it be that this event never happened?

Let’s take a look at the facts, as recorded in the pages of the New York Times.

First, we have to discount part of Don Butler’s statement. Amelia Earhart had not “recently become the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean”—at least not in 1928. She had been a passenger - a female passenger — aboard a trans-Atlantic flight dubbed the Friendship flight. The pilot on this historic flight was Wilmer Stultz, with Louis Gordon as mechanic. Amelia’s job on the flight was simply to sit in the back and take notes. The Friendship flight left Boston on June 3, 1928. Delayed in Newfoundland because of dense fog, the flight to South Wales, United Kingdom, not completed until June 17-18.

Although Amelia would eventually become the first woman pilot to fly the Atlantic solo, that wouldn’t happen until 1932.

ameliaThe Allpar staff must admit that, despite our preview photo, Amelia’s car was blue, as described in the text. However, it proved very difficult to colorize it that way, so it became yellow for the purpose of this small illustration. The original photo (in black and white) is shown above.

Let us look at the timeline of the events leading up to the introduction of the new Plymouth and Miss Earhart’s arrival back in New York City following the trans-Atlantic flight.

  • Thursday, July 5, 1928 — The new Plymouth goes on display at Simons, Stewart and Foy showrooms in New York City, Chrysler distributors for New York. (Byron Foy would also become Walter P.’s son-in-law when he married Thelma Chrysler.)
  • Friday, July 6 — Amelia Earhart, Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon arrive in New York City aboard the steamship President Roosevelt. They transfer from the Roosevelt to the municipal welcome boat Macom, then are taken to City Hall for a reception and “luncheon tendered by Commander Richard Byrd.”
  • Saturday July 7 — The formal announcement is made for the new Plymouth automobile. The Friendship crew attends a luncheon at the Women’s City Club, then views the musical Show Boat at the Ziegfield Theatre that evening.
  • Sunday, July 8 — Amelia visits children at the Presbyterian Hospital, then rides back downtown in the sidecar of a New York City police motorcycle. The Friendship crew is entertained that evening in a reception, at the Westchester Biltmore.
  • Monday, July 9 — The Friendship crew travels to Boston, where their flight originated on June 3. They return to New York city the next day.
  • Wednesday, July 11 — The Friendship crew appears at Madison Square Garden for an 8:00 pm (EDT) nationwide radio broadcast, then are honored guests at the Biltmore at a reception given by the Chrysler Sales Corporation, where Miss Earhart is “presented a blue roadster” according to the newspaper account (no mention is made of anything presented to Stultz or Gordon, nor is the make of car given to Miss Earhart revealed).

The only known photo of Amelia with a Chrysler product shows her standing alongside a Chrysler roadster of 1928 vintage, a photo that appeared in the 1988 Chrysler Stockholders Report.

Did she or didn’t she? Did Amelia really introduce the new Plymouth line of cars. Or is this simply another story that has become legend despite its apparent lack of truth?

The story continues with Neta Snook — who taught Amelia Earhart to fly.

The Southern/Pellegreno Valiant

Material given to me by Ann Pellegreno

This Valiant 100 was purchased new in 1966 by Neta Snook Southern, who drove it regularly — about one thousand miles annually—by her death until 1991.

Born in 1897, Nita learned to fly at the Davenport School of Aviation in Iowa in 1917; she later continued her education at the Curtiss School of Aviation at Newport News, Virginia. After World War One, Neta returned to Ames, Iowa, where she restored a Canadian “Jenny” bi-plane (popularly called a Canuck). She barnstormed until the fall of 1920 when she had the plane crated and shipped to California; when Neta married William Southern in 1921, she gave up barnstorming for good.

nita snook

While in California she met Amelia Earhart and taught her to fly, giving Amelia her first lesson on January 3, 1921. She remained friends with Amelia until her world flight and subsequent disappearance in July, 1937. Neta’s book, I Taught Amelia To Fly, was published in 1974.

Ann Pellegreno first knew that Neta owned a 1966 Plymouth Valiant in 1971 when she met Neta’s sister, Vivian Snook Smedal of Ames, Iowa. When Ann’s book World Flight, The Earhart Trail was published in November, 1971, Vivian called her and told her about Neta. Ann had flown a 1937 twin engine Lockheed 10 (Electra) — the same type Amelia flew on her last flight—around the world in 1967, on the 30th anniversary of Amelia’s ill-fated flight.

Ann had two other 1966 Plymouth Valiants. The first was purchased new in Detroit. This two-door, with a three-speed on the column, and a 170 cubic inch slant six engine, was driven regularly until the fall of 1989 when it was retired with 282,611 miles on the odometer. While still capable of being driven, it functioned primarily as a rolling parts bin.

The second 1966 Valiant was purchased from a woman in Burlington, Washington. Ann drove that car back to Iowa in August of 1989. She and her husband completely restored this four-door, automatic, with the 225 cubic inch slant six. This one is still being driven with 20,324 miles on the rebuilt engine. It’s estimated the engine had 70,000 miles on it prior to rebuilding.

Ann had written Neta, telling her that if she ever wanted to sell her Valiant, and if no one in her family wanted it, she would like to buy it. Neta wrote back that her grandchildren wanted it, so Ann bought her second Valiant instead.

Neta Snook Southern passed away in March, 1991, at the age of 95. That October, Neta’s son, Bill Southern, and his wife Nadine, came to Iowa to visit Vivian Snook Smedal. Bill said the grandchildren didn’t want the car because it didn’t have a stereo or air conditioning. Ann flew to California and drove the Valiant home in November 1991.

With only 25,000 miles on its odometer, the Valiant provided a pleasurable drive back with no problems. The little Valiant just spun down the highway. After more than an hour driving through a blizzard near Elk Mountain, Wyoming, the Valiant was the only car to pull into the service station at Laramie with totally clear windows. Newer cars had steamed up windows.

Arriving in Ames, Ann had the Valiant washed and then drove it to Vivian’s home so she could see her sister’s car again.

Interested in reading about more historical Plymouths? Visit our main history page or the Plymouth Owners' Club.

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