The McCann Time Capsule: The First Woman to Fly Solo Around the World
The “Mad Men” view of advertising in the 1960s would have us believe that the wives of ad agency executives were overall engaged only in the mundane activities of housewifery and motherhood. But for one Ohio office McCann copywriter in 1964, his 39-year-old wife defied all of the average suburban housewife stereotypes associated with that era.
As a small McCann internal newsletter item early that year said,
“Russell C. Mock, copy supervisor in the Columbus Office, is the proud husband of a lady who is about to add a new chapter to aviation history:
“Mrs. Mock has announced her intention to fly around the world. She hopes to set two records with her flight—to be the first woman to fly around the world, and to set a speed record for an aircraft weighing less than 3,800 lbs.
“Mrs. Mock—Jerrie—will fly a single-engine Cessna and will fly alone. Over 20 firms in the aviation field, including Goodyear, are sponsoring the flight, through engineering and equipment assistance.”
Geraldine Mock, self-described as “the flying housewife,” did indeed succeed on April 18, 1964, in becoming “the first woman to fly solo around the world,” according to the “Women in Aviation and Space History” page devoted to her on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s website. Flying for a month, hopscotching through 21 landings, she made it around the full circumference of the globe. And in the process, she set not just two, but “a total of seven records including first woman to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”
Her husband, the McCanner, was a pilot, but she was actually relatively new to flying at the time she undertook her great global adventure. One of the first female aeronautical engineering students at Ohio State University, she did not begin flying lessons until she was 32 and received her private pilot’s license in 1958, only six years before her extraordinary feat.
“As the mother of three children (17, 16, and 3 years old), barely five feet in height and weighing little more than 100 pounds, this ‘flying housewife,’ was far from the typical pilot,” the Smithsonian website says. “However, though she did not have over-water experience, she was armed with confidence, 750 hours of flight time, and a newly acquired instrument rating which allowed her greater latitude for weather conditions, though the flight would be primarily under visual flight rules (VFR). Her enthusiastic husband helped with fundraising and the preparation of the aircraft.”
What motivated her to undertake this perilous journey? Well, a combination of boredom and a kind of “why not” attitude, said another story about her on the Smithsonian site. “She and her husband Russell loved to fly around the Midwest but she longed to visit countries she had always dreamed of as a child,” the article said. “Russ suggested a world flight and Jerrie enthusiastically said why not? So Russ and co-owner Al Baumeister outfitted the high-wing Cessna with dual directional finders and short-range radios, a long range high-frequency radio with trailing wire, an autopilot and three extra fuel tanks to extend its range to an impressive 3,500 miles.”
In addition to the record-breaking fame (and she had competitively accelerated her take-off in order to beat out another woman pilot who was planning a similar journey), she also was presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson with the FAA's Gold Medal for Exceptional Service, as shown in the attached May 4, 1964 photo.