1874 – 1927
Who was Gustave Whitehead?
Gustave Albin Whitehead, born Gustav Albin Weisskopf, was an aviation pioneer who emigrated from Germany to the United States where he designed and built gliders, flying machines and engines between 1897 and 1915. Controversy surrounds published accounts and Whitehead's own claims that he flew a powered machine successfully several times in 1901 and 1902, predating the first flights by the Wright Brothers in 1903.
Much of Whitehead's reputation rests on a newspaper article written as an eyewitness account which stated that Whitehead made a powered flight in Connecticut on August 14, 1901. In the months that followed, details from this article were widely reprinted in newspapers around the world. Whitehead's aircraft designs and experiments also attracted notice in Scientific American magazine and a 1904 book about industrial progress. Whitehead later worked for sponsors who hired him to build aircraft of their own design, although none flew, and he became a known designer and builder of lightweight engines. He fell out of public notice around 1915 and died in relative obscurity in 1927.
In 1937, a magazine article and book asserted that Whitehead had made powered flights in 1901-1902. The book included statements from people who said they had seen various Whitehead flights decades earlier. The book and article triggered debate in the 1930s and '40s among scholars, researchers, aviation enthusiasts and Orville Wright over the question of whether Whitehead was first in powered flight. Mainstream historians dismissed the flight claims. Further independent research in the 1960s and 70s, including books in 1966 and 1978, supported the Whitehead claims.
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