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Two icons of the Depression-era United States were killed in a plane crash in the northern reaches of Alaska while seeking a mail route to Russia on this day in history, August 15, 1935.
“Cowboy philosopher” Will Rogers was a vaudeville performer, newspaper columnist, Hollywood leading man and one of most famous Americans of his era.
Daring aviator and air travel pioneer Wiley Post was the first person to fly solo around the world; he was an innovator in high-altitude flying and pioneer of instrumentation flying.
The Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, is named in their honor.
Rogers was arguably America’s original multimedia star, according to the website of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum & Birthplace Ranch in Claremore, Okla.
“Will Rogers was the no. 1 radio personality, he was no. 1 at the movie box office, he was the nation’s no. 1 most sought after public speaker [and] he was the no. 1 most-read newspaper columnist,” the site states.
The flyer Wiley Post (at right, with eye patch) and his companion Will Rogers are shown on the wing of the plane just before they left on their fateful trip. (Getty Images)
“He wrote books, traveled the world and gave liberally to charities around the world.”
Rogers had a gift for skewering the political elite with his folksy aphorisms befitting his rural Okie upbringing.
“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts,” he said in one of his most oft-repeated quips.
“A fool and his money are soon elected,” Rogers also said.
Post flew around the world twice. He first circumnavigated the globe piloting the Winnie Mae in eight days in 1931 accompanied by navigator Harold Gatty.
The achievement made Post a national celebrity.
The front page of the New York Daily News dated Aug. 17, 1935, had this headline: “WILL ROGERS WILEY POST DIE IN CRASH.” (NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
His record solo voyage around the world in 1933, also aboard the Winnie Mae, covered nearly 16,000 miles and took just seven days, 18 hours and 49 minutes.
“On this flight he proved the value of navigational instruments, including the automatic pilot,” reports Britannica of the achievement.
“He later went on to establish altitude records, wearing a pressure suit of his own design to survive the high-altitude conditions.”
American sound engineer Franklin Hansen, actor and writer Will Rogers (center) and Scottish-born director Frank Lloyd stand at the podium at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California. Both Hansen and Lloyd won Oscars that year, on March 16, 1934. (New York Times Co./Getty Images)
Both Rogers and Post were mourned in front-page headlines around the nation following their dramatic deaths.
Rogers enjoyed a rather unique ascension into the national consciousness.
A globe-trotting trick roper as a young man, he worked shows demonstrating his skills as far away as South Arica and Australia.
He was at a horse expo at Madison Square Garden in 1905 when a runaway bull tried to race into the stands. Rogers roped and restrained the bull, gaining significant national publicity for his heroics.
Rogers and Post sought to establish a mail route from the American West Coast to Russia, via Alaska.
An avid supporter of aviation, Rogers joined Post as they sought to establish a mail route from the American West Coast to Russia, via Alaska.
“On August 15, 1935, Will and Wiley took off from Fairbanks, bound for Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the U.S.,” the Will Rogers Memorial Museum states in its chronicle of the final voyage of the two celebrated Americans.
“After refueling at Harding Lake, Post landed at a lagoon 15 miles southwest of Barrow to get directions. Just after takeoff the engine failed, causing the plane to crash, killing both men instantly.”
Kerry J. Byrne is a lifestyle reporter with Fox News Digital.