msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/23/2011 12:21:09 AM ET 2011-03-23T04:21:09

Frank Neuhauser, who in 1925 won the first U.S. national spelling bee with the word "gladiolus," has died. He was 97.

Neuhauser was a patent lawyer who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland. He died March 11 in his home, Francis J. Collins Funeral Home has verified. He had myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disease, The Washington Post reported.

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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.

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

Neuhauser appeared in "Spellbound," a 2002 documentary film that help boost the popularity of the bee. He was often sought out by young spellers who wanted to have their picture taken with him, according to the Post.

Neuhauser had attended some of the national bees over the years. That included 2008, when he said the contest was a lot easier during his youth.

He said he'd never make it now.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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