The Gustave Whitehead controversy : How does Smithsonian deny Whitehead?

Smithsonian handles the Gustave Whitehead controversy by denying Whitehead was first in flight.

A little known, highly prejudicial talk entitled “The Strange Case of Gustave Whitehead”, presented midway through 2013 by Smithsonian’s head curator Tom Crouch in Dayton, Ohio, appeared on YouTube last week. It provides unparalleled insight into how “rattled” that curator feels and how he is leading “fierce” fighting against the claim that Connecticut resident Gustave Whitehead invented and flew the first powered airplane in 1901.

What the public doesn’t realize is that in 1948, Smithsonian (and the US Gov’t) signed a secretive legal contract with the Orville  Wright heirs that it will only recognize Orville Wright as first in flight, and the Wright Flyer as the first plane to make a powered flight, in order to obtain the Wright Flyer for $1. If the Smithsonian recognizes anyone else as first in flight, or any other plane, the Wright Flyer reverts to the Orville Wright heirs. The contract (called the “Agreement” by Smithsonian) was obtained in 1976 by researcher Major William J. O’Dwyer (US AF retired), with the help of then-CT Senator Lowell Weicker, well documented at  Dr. Crouch is therefore required, as part of his job, to defend the Wrights as first in flight and to attack all contenders for that title – or suffer the loss of the premiere exhibit at Smithsonian. This is what he is trying hard to do in the above presentation.

Dr. Crouch launches attacks on Jane’s All the World Aircraft’s editor for providing that recognition in 2013, and on virtually all prior Whitehead researchers, witnesses and “supporters” for the past century. In a talk loaded with cherry-picked misinformation and innuendo, Dr. Crouch unwittingly provides evidence that the Smithsonian has never examined the voluminous field research concerning Whitehead, but rather, has long sought to pour scorn on him. In fact, at the end of his talk he grits his teeth and emotionally references the need to “drive a stake into the heart” of the Whitehead story, lamenting that this is required every 10-20 years and it still won’t go away. He appears like a deer in the headlights of the growing recognition of Whitehead as “first in flight” and apparently cannot conceive of the unprofessional light of his biased stance.

Dr. Crouch takes an hour to make the case against Whitehead, drawing upon the comments of contenders for first flight, like Orville Wright, and others who never stepped foot onto his Fairfield County flying grounds, nor conducted true investigations. The testimonies of 28+ witnesses for Whitehead flights that occurred from 1899 through 1908 were alternately decried as either lies or mistaken sightings of gliders. Dr. Crouch unwittingly makes the case for Whitehead by admitting that Whitehead’s gliders flew and his lightweight engines flew other planes. But he simply cannot accept that when these engines and gliders were placed together, they could have resulted in flights that occurred well before the Wrights. He vehemently denies that Gustave Whitehead had the ability to make manned powered flights, using flimsy hearsay “evidence” to “prove” his points. After decrying those who use newspaper articles as evidence for flights, ignoring the veracity of the Bridgeport Sunday Herald, known to have the largest circulation in 1901, which repeatedly reported Whitehead flights, he desperately attempts to use a small competitor’s article, “Unrealized Dreams”, that ridiculed Whitehead, as evidence he could not have flown. (Click link at left to read the article and this author’s commentary.)  Under legal contract to defend the Wrights’ first in flight status at Smithsonian, and a native to the Wrights’ hometown of Dayton, Ohio, educated at Wright State and Ohio State universities, Dr. Crouch is an attacker of Wright contenders and a defender of the Wright legend, which he helped further institutionalize.  This is not the attitude of an unbiased historian, charged with establishing truth in history, but the demeanor of a badly shaken autocrat whose stance is rapidly becoming obsolete.

I encourage Readers to witness how Connecticut and national history is being suppressed, by viewing this strange case of a national historian gone wrong on YouTube at, and by visiting for more accurate information and resources on Gustave Whitehead, recently credited as inventor of the first airplane to make a powered flight. Connecticut residents may visit the Fairfield Museum’s O’Dwyer Whitehead archives to view four decades of original field research and other media on Whitehead.

Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,