Gustave Whitehead’s Last Hurrah
All Over But The Shouting
The issue of whether or not German immigrant Gustave Whitehead flew at Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1901 or 1902, or ever flew at all, has been simmering since 1935 when Stella Randolph and Harvey Phillips’ article “Did Whitehead Precede Wright In World’s First Powered Flight?” appeared in Popular Aviation magazine.
The first high-water mark of the dispute came in 1937, with the publication of Stella Randolph’s book Lost Flights Of Gustave Whitehead.
In 1978, forty-one years after Randolph’s first book was published, Randolph and Maj. William O’Dwyer co-authored History By Contract, a work that heatedly slammed the Smithsonian Institution for entering into an agreement (O’Dwyer and Randolph characterized it as a “contract”) with the estate of Orville Wright that secured the 1903 Wright Flyer for the Smithsonian.
The agreement, in fact, specified the manner of display and labeling of the 1903 Wright Flyer, to ensure that the Langley Large Aerodrome “A” machine would not be given preferential treatment over the 1903 Wright Flyer, and to ensure the status of the 1903 Wright Flyer as the first machine to make a powered, controlled, sustained flight under human control while carrying a human operator.
The “contract” is still a bone of contention for Whitehead advocates, who wrongly accuse the Smithsonian and NASM of ignoring Whitehead in order to maintain possession of the 1903 Wright Flyer.
Reconciliation Dashed By A Curmudgeon
Perhaps surprisingly, there was a glimmer of a chance in the late 1970’s to reach some sort of accord or understanding between those pushing for Whitehead, and the Smithsonian/NASM, and it was torpedoed by one —> Read More