Curious Historian

Stories on local history

Gustave Whitehead

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We Believe!

The recent article written in Jane’s All the World Aircraft that verifies Gustave Whitehead flew his plane on August 14, 1901.

We here at the Bridgeport Public Library’s History Center have scads of articles on file that support this.

We Believe in Gustave Whitehead!

Here is an article that was in this blog that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Gustave Whitehead an his miraculous flight.  Miracles do happen!

Gustave Whitehead near plane

1874-1927

Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead made his first solo flight August 14, 1901.  Why is he not known as the “Father of Flight?”   This year marks the 110th anniversary of Gustave Whitehead’s  historic flight.

One of the best articles on Whitehead’s flight appeared in Popular Aviation magazine in January 1934, with the headline, “Did Whitehead Precede Wrights in World’s First powered Flight?”

The article, written by researchers Stella Randolph and Harvey Phillips, tells the story of Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine, known as 21.

According to the 1934 article, the plane Whitehead used for his initial 1 1/2 mile was a mono plane with a four cylinder, two-cycle motor located in the forward motor located in the forward part of the flying device.

The plane’s ignition was of the make-and-break type, and Columbus dry batteries were used.  The gravity-fed gas tank held two gallons of petrol.

The wings were the most amazing sight, covered with Japanese silk, and varnished and fastened onto bamboo struts.

Whitehead, a mechanic, was one of the few men pursuing powered flight who worked on both the motor and the actual plane.   He poured all of his financial resources into constructing the plane.

He wanted his plane to be perfect, and kept wrestling with the motor and plane until he got it right.

Whitehead continued to work on his plane at his Pine Street home after the summer of 1901.  In early 1902, he flew his plane on trips of two miles and seven miles over Long Island Sound.

In comparison, the Wright Brothers “first” flight in December 1903 in Kitty Hawk, N.C. was only 852 feet, and lasted only 59 seconds.

Why is Whitehead not better known for his invention?

Whitehead, a German immigrant, quietly conducted his experiments.  While his friends and neighbors were familiar with his work, he flew his plane early in the morning and there were few observers.

According to the Popular Aviation article, the Wright Brothers had independent means,” the article said, “they had the encouragement of people in the same field, they belonged to organizations where there work would find reception and publicity, they spoke English fluently and their background was such that they knew how to use it skillfully to carry their audience with them.

Just as Ohio takes pride in their hometown boys, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Bridgeport,Connecticut should celebrate Gustave Whitehead.  Note: The Wright brothers visited Whitehead and discussed his experiments.

Mary Witkowski

Bridgeport City Historian


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