Will Rogers was one of early 20th Century Americas greatest personalities. He was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator from Oklahoma. He was a Cherokee citizen born in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory.
Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son”, Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). As an entertainer and humorist, he traveled around the world three times, made 71 films (50 silent films and 21 “talkies”), and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns.
By the mid-1930s, the American people adored Rogers. He was the leading political wit of his time and was the highest paid Hollywood film star. Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in northern Alaska.
Wiley Hardeman Post (November 22, 1898 – August 15, 1935) was a famed American aviator during the interwar period, the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Also known for his work in high-altitude flying, Post helped develop one of the first pressure suits and discovered the jet stream. On August 15, 1935, Post and American humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post’s aircraft crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrow in the Territory of Alaska.
Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements in Europe and befriending Charles Lindbergh, the most famous American aviator of the era. During his 1926 European trip, Rogers witnessed the European advances in commercial air service and compared them to the almost nonexistent facilities in the United States. Rogers’ newspaper columns frequently emphasized the safety record, speed, and convenience of this means of transportation, and he helped shape public opinion on the subject.
In 1935 Post, also an Oklahoman, became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia. He attached a Lockheed Explorer wing to a Lockheed Orion fuselage, fitting floats for landing in the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California, while he was modifying the aircraft. He asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Lake Washington in Renton in the Lockheed Orion-Explorer in early August and then made several stops in Alaska. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. Before they left Fairbanks, they signed and mailed a burgee, a distinguishing flag belonging to the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club. The signed burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California. On August 15, they left Fairbanks for Point Barrow.
When about 20 miles southwest of Point Barrow and having difficulty in figuring their position due to bad weather, they landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing, and ended up inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly. Rogers was buried August 21, 1935, in Forest Lawn Park in Glendale, California; it was a temporary interment. He was reinterred at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Here is that memorial broadcast as it was first heard on NBC Radio from August 16, 1935.