Jane’s All About Airplanes’ 2013 announcement that Gustave Whitehead should be credited with having flown in Fairfield and Stratford in 1901 puts an authoritative stamp on an achievement that had previously lacked recognition by most aviation historians. Advocates of Whitehead’s role in history, especially Stella Randolph, William O’Dwyer, and Andy Kosch, have pursued the story over the years in order to win this kind of recognition. For more information, see coverage by NPR, CBS This Morning, the Connecticut Post and the in-depth website of researcher John Brown, including his explanation about the “missing photograph” from the 1901 flight. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s spring 2013 article explains why it does not accept Whitehead’s claim. Brown’s in-depth article summarizing his research, with citations, is available here.
Susan Brinchman’s book, Gustave Whitehead : “First in flight”: hidden history of Gustave Whitehead & the Wrights (2015) is the most complete compilation to date of primary sources and contextual information about Whitehead. The book is available in our library and also in the Museum’s gift shop. Brinchman’s list of witnesses to Gustave Whitehead’s flights is also available alphabetically or by date of flight, and more information is available on her website.
Following Jane’s recognition, Governor Malloy of Connecticut signed into law on June 25th House Bill 6671, which includes among its provisions recognition of Gustave Whitehead as the first man to achieve successful powered flight. Per the text of the bill, in Connecticut “Powered Flight Day” will now be celebrated to honor Gustave Whitehead rather than the Wright Brothers. For more information, see coverage by The Economist.
Want to learn more? The Fairfield Museum’s library contains copies of the books by O’Dwyer and Randolph that present their research , which are now out of print, as well as the William O’Dwyer Gustave Whitehead Research Collection, which contains photographs, newspaper articles, and correspondence about Whitehead’s flights; the library also has witness accounts and news articles compiled by Susan Brinchman. A mini-exhibition in the library’s foyer displays items from the collection and tells Whitehead’s story.