In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. His single-seat, single-engine monoplane – the Spirit of St. Louis – made the flight from New York to Paris in just over 33 hours, catapulting Lindbergh to instant stardom.
Initially, Lindbergh used his new-found fame to extol the virtues of commercial aviation; later, as leverage in the America First campaign against US involvement in the Second World War. In anticipation of the UK publication of David M. Friedman’s book, The Immortalists, journalist Brendan O’Neill highlights on a lesser-known chapter in the Lindbergh story [for BBC Magazine];
In the 1930s, after his historic flight over the Atlantic, Lindbergh hooked up with Alexis Carrel, a brilliant surgeon born in France but who worked in a laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan. Carrel – who was a mystic as well as a scientist – had already won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the transplantation of blood vessels. But his real dream was a future in which the human body would become, in Friedman’s words, “a machine with constantly repairable or replaceable parts”.
This is where Lindbergh entered the frame. Carrel hoped that his own scientific nous combined with Lindbergh’s machine-making proficiency (Lindbergh had, after all, already helped design a plane that flew non-stop to Paris) would make his fantasy about immortal machine-enabled human beings a reality.
But while the Lindbergh-Carrel duo made some significant breakthroughs, including ‘a perfusion pump that could keep a human organ alive outside of the body’ (and precursor to the heart-lung machine), their partnership had a darker side. In a New York Times review of The Immortalists, Kyla Dunn comments on the sinister undertones of these early cyborg dreams;
“We cannot escape the fact that our civilization was built, and still depends, upon the quality rather than the equality of men,” Lindbergh wrote in his 1948 treatise “Of Flight and Life.” As late as 1969, he remained concerned that “after millions of years of successful evolution, human life is now deteriorating genetically,” warning in Life magazine that “we must contrive a new process of evolutionary selection” in order to survive.
Of course, it’s worth noting that eugenicist views were fairly common in the 1930s, and some of the claims made by Friedman in The Immortalists have been criticised as based on circumstantial evidence. Either way, the New York Times has published the first chapter of The Immortalists online, for your perusal.
[Image from the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia]