The first crossing of the United States by airplane was achieved by Calbraith Perry Rodgers in 1911 in his Wright EX biplane, named the Vin Fiz. Rodgers decided to attempt the coast-to-coast flight in response to publisher William Randolph Hearst's New York American challenge which offered a prize of $50,000 for the first transcontinental flight to be competed in 30 days. Rodgers began his journey from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911, and as the flight was punctuated by numerous stops, delays, and accidents the 30-day time limit Hearst imposed for the prize had expired before Rodgers reached California on November 5, 1911.
To finance the trip, Rodgers had secured backing from the Armour Company, a Chicago firm which was then introducing a new grape-flavored soft drink called Vin Fiz. Armour provided Rodgers with a special train, called the Vin Fiz Special, with cars for the accommodation of Rodgers' family and his support crew, and a "hangar" car, which was a rolling workshop, filled with spare parts to repair and maintain the airplane over the course of the flight. There was even an automobile on board to pick up Rodgers after forced landings away from the rail line. Fred Howard, the division passenger agent for the Erie Railroad, was placed in charge of the Vin Fiz Special and soon also took charge of the command center, juggling both railroad matters and aviation repairs. In Chicago, Howard was commended for his effort and asked to continue with the flight to California, but he declined.