First National Spelling Bee Winner Dies at 97

WASHINGTON -- Frank Neuhauser, who in 1925 won the first national spelling bee with the word "gladiolus," and went on to become a patent lawyer, has died. He was 97.

Neuhauser died March 11 in his home Silver Spring, Md., home, Francis J. Collins Funeral Home verified on Tuesday.

He was 11 years old when he won the championship. His prizes included $500 in gold and a trip to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge.

Neuhauser said he got ready for the contest by copying words from a dictionary into a blank book, and having his father quiz him each night.

After winning, he returned home to a parade and crowds bearing bouquets of gladioli.

The contest, now called the Scripps National Spelling Bee, has become quite popular and portions of it are televised. Last year, 274 finalists competed.

Something of a cult hero, Neuhauser had attended some of the national bees over the years, where the young contestants sought him and his autograph. That included 2008, when he said the contest was a lot easier during his youth.

He said he'd never make it now.

Neuhauser appeared in the 2002 documentary, "Spellbound."

A native of Louisville, Ky., Neuhauser earned an electrical engineering degree in 1934 and a law degree from George Washington University in 1940. He served stateside in the Navy during World War II. He worked as a patent lawyer for General Electric and later for a law firm. He retired in 1988.

Even into his 90s, Neuhauser enjoyed working in his garden, and was especially fond of raising gladioli.


Information from: The Washington Post,