The America was a non-rigid airship built by Mutin Godard, in France, in 1906 for the journalist Walter Wellman's attempt to reach the North Pole by air. Wellman first conceived the idea of using a balloon to fly to the pole during a failed polar attempt by boat and sledge from Svalbard in 1894. He then visited Paris to review the state of balloon technology but left disappointed by the lack of acceptable steering and propulsion capability. A decade later while at the 1905 Portsmouth Peace Conference he learned of recent innovations in French dirigible design and believed a solution might be at hand for his Arctic aerial plan. After receiving the backing of newspaper publisher Victor F. Lawson, the Wellman Chicago Record-Herald Polar Expedition was announced, and Wellman travelled to Paris in search of a suitable design and manufacturer. In the meantime a public company was established to raise the $US 250,000 required for the expedition and airship (to which Lawson contributed $60,000).
On 15th of October 1910, takeoff was made from Atlantic City. Condensing water on the airship's skin added excess weight, and it was difficult to gain height. A passing storm also made forward navigation difficult. The engines failed 38 hours into the flight, apparently due to contamination by beach sand, and America started to drift. The crew jettisoned all excess weight, including one of the defunct engines. The ship had gone as far as a point east of New Hampshire and south of Nova Scotia before floating generally south.
After another 33 hours, and having now travelled a total distance of 1,190 nautical miles (2,200 km) from launching, they sighted the Royal Mail steamship Trent west of Bermuda. After attracting the ship's attention by a signaling lamp using Morse code, they made the first aerial distress call by radio. The crew, and mascot cat Kiddo, got into the lifeboat and, after opening the gas valves on the airship, abandoned the America. The airship drifted out of sight and was never seen again. Trent, having barely avoided running down the lifeboat in a high crosswind, was able to rescue the crew and returned them to New York.