Local newspaper evidence for Gustave Whitehead’s (Gustav Weißkopf’s) 1901 flights (and for at least one more year, 1904) was abundant. However, much of it has been hidden for more than a century, in obscure microfiche reels and other archives unseen by Whitehead researchers. Now, increasingly available through digitization and a renewed interest in existing microfiche reels, more details are emerging concerning Gustave Whitehead’s flight experiments and activities, the community’s acceptance of his early flights, and what happened in later years. This new, expanded treasure trove of Whitehead news articles confirms local eyewitness accounts.
Learn the whole story – read “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” (Brinchman, 2015)
Three local Bridgeport newspapers reported on Gustave Whitehead’s successful flights of 1901 – in many news articles from 1901 through 1912, listed below. So far, I have identified a total of 11 local news articles during that time period describing successful Whitehead flights. [Articles newly discovered are indicated with: *NEW!] Two local newspapers referenced Whitehead flight photos the journalist had seen just prior to publication – confirming the existence of early Whitehead flight photos, also mentioned as being publicly displayed before many hundreds of attendees during the Aero Club’s first exhibit in New York City, described prominently in the Scientific American (Jan., 1905). The Bridgeport Evening Farmer of May 29, 1909, had this to say, in the same paragraph when Gus Whitehead was describing his summer flights of 1901:
Mr. Whitehead has a number of photographs of his machines in the air. Some show a passenger aboard. The pictures are by amateurs, but show that the inventor has done more toward the development of his machines than the public has given him credit for doing. “
A fourth local Bridgeport newspaper directed people to view powered flight photos in a shop window, in October, 1904, confirming Whitehead was then routinely making half mile flights. It is certain that more exist. Many were located in the past year, due to the digitization of Connecticut newspapers, available at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project website. Much of these have not been published, and have been wrongly and vehemently denied by those opposing Whitehead’s recognition as “first in flight”.
Whitehead also wrote a highly reputable German aeronautical journal after his half mile flight in August 1901, and it published his personal description of the experience, which differed concerning an important feature from the local news account.
The Bridgeport Sunday Herald obtained a local exclusive with eyewitness privileges for its well-respected sports editor, Richard Howell, to view the historic flights of August 14, 1901. The Herald‘s later editions and editors repeatedly supported Howell’s account.
Another, the Bridgeport Evening Post, reported successful flight experiments in the West End of Bridgeport in early August 1901, several weeks after they occurred.
The Bridgeport Evening Farmer (BEF) – though poking fun at Whitehead’s boat-shaped plane in the spring of 1902 – later, on four separate occasions, in articles from 1909-1912, specifically referred back to Whitehead’s successful flights of 1901, providing confirmation of what 14 powered flight eyewitnesses reported, including an editor-journalist, Richard Howell. In addition, the BEF describes Whitehead as such as successful aeroplane inventor that many expect he will solve the problem of aerial navigation and “conquer the air”.
In October, 1904, the Bridgeport Daily Standard confirmed that Gustave Whitehead was making frequent flights of half a mile, at a 20 foot elevation, and that two photographs of these flights could be viewed in the window of a popular hardware store on Main Street.
Bridgeport Sunday Herald (note: links may be for one subarticle, view entire page link at end of article)
(August 18, 1901) A full page eyewitness account by editor Richard Howell, of Whitehead’s first sustained, manned, powered flight in his “No. 21” aircraft, the first successful sustained airplane flight in the world. [view p. 5]
“He had now soared through the air for fully half a mile and as the field ended a short distance ahead the aeronaut shut off the power and prepared to light. He appeared to be a little fearful that the machine would dip ahead or tip back when the power was shut off but there was no sign of any such move on the part of the big bird. She settled down from a height of about fifty feet in two minutes after the propellers stopped. And she lighted on the ground on her four wooden wheels so lightly that Whitehead was not jarred in the least.”
(November 17, 1901) “The shop is well stocked with steel and iron which is being used in the construction of a flying machine modeled after the one in which Mr. Whitehead made two successful flights recently as described by the Herald at the time. It was with this machine that Mr. Whitehead demonstrated the practicability of his invention during the season [summer] in Fairfield … Since that time two more flights have been madefor the benefit of the New York capitalist, whose identity is kept a secret.” [view p. 1]
(May 31, 1903)“… Two years ago the Herald printed an article descriptive of one of Mr. Whitehead’s flying machines. That machine was shaped like a boat. It had wheels so that when the wings or propellers were folded up, the machine could be run on the ground by a motor installed in the body or boat for that purpose… In talking with a Herald representative Mr. Whitehead said: I will never give up trying to make a flying machine that will be practicable and of commercial value. It is easy to make flying machines that will fly, but they are toys and of no practical use.” [see p. 4]
(February 17, 1935) republished portions of the eyewitness story written by Howell [Source: LOC]
(January 30, 1937) (Sunday Herald Magazine) entire eyewitness article republished, entitled “Here’s Proof from the Files of the Herald”. Three times within this article, the editor confirmed that Dick Howell had written the Aug. 18, 1901 article. [Source: LOC]
“In their 1937 magazine issue, the Herald thrice confirmed Richard “Dick” Howell was the eyewitness reporter on August 14, 1901, with these published statements:
“It was a thrilling adventure for reporter Richard Howell, later publisher of the HERALD, to watch Whitehead’s No. 21 go soaring above the earth.”
[After describing the story to the readers, the Herald again credits Howell …]
“That is the story as reporter Dick Howell told it and as it lives today in the files of the HERALD.” 59
Then, on the next page (5) of the magazine, the Herald article about Whitehead, “Flying”, from 1901, was reproduced with the title, “Here’s Proof from the Files of Bridgeport Herald” with another statement crediting Dick Howell.
“The HERALD was one of the earliest papers to go air-minded, and this reproduction of a page from
the issue of Sunday, August 18, 1901, shows the story written by the late Richard Howell, then a reporter and later publisher of the HERALD. The flight was made just after midnight [Author’s note: the manned flight actually took place near dawn] on the Tuesday previous to this issue. Authorities are using other reproductions of this page in their effort to prove that Whitehead flew more than two years before the Wright brothers” [appears at bottom of article].” (“Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” Brinchman 38-39)
Bridgeport Evening Post
*NEW! (August 26, 1901) Perfecting His Machine …The success thus far attained by the inventor shows that perseverance wins invariably, despite the obstacles confronting the student … [he] finally commenced to work on his present machine which he tested a few weeks ago in the old trotting park in the West End of the city and which worked successfully…”
Bridgeport Evening Farmer
*New! (May 15, 1909) “Mr. Whitehead has made several successful flights in aeroplanes, and there are many people who believe that he will surely conquer the air.”
*New! (May 29 , 1909) ” ‘When I started to make flying machines 15 years ago everyone thought I was crazy but the recent achievements of the Wright Bros, prove that I had the right ideas about the matter. But the Wrights had to go to Europe before this country could see them. I made four flights of a half mile each in 1901 at Fairfield, but I could not get publicity enough at the time to attract the attention of anyone with capital. Those four flights were made with a 30 horsepower engine weighing 450 pounds.’ … Mr. Whitehead has a number of photographs of his machines in the air. Some show a passenger aboard. The pictures are by amateurs, but show that the inventor has done more toward the development of his machines than the public has given him credit for doing. “
*NEW! (Dec. 20, 1909) “[Gustave Whitehead] …eight years ago  created considerable excitement when he made successful flights in Fairfield…”
*NEW! (June 20, 1910) “Back in 1901 [Gustave Whitehead] made a flight in an airship of the aeroplane type, out near Fairfield beach, when he soared through the air for one-eighth of a mile and astounded the few who were privileged to witness the unheralded trial.”
*NEW! (March 12, 1912) (reporting on a civil court case)”The defendant [Gustave Whitehead] is well known throughout this section and attained national reputation by inventing an airship a few years ago.”
Bridgeport Daily Standard (Oct. 1, 1904) Bridgeport Daily Standard reported several photographs of Whitehead flying at an altitude of 20 feet, with frequent half mile flights in their Oct. 1, 1904 issue.
“GUSTAVE WHITEHEAD SHOWS THAT HE CAN FLY FOR AT LEAST HALF MILE
“Exhibits Photographs in Window of a Main Street Store Which Indicate that His Aeroplane Principal is a Good Foundation Upon Which to Base Plans for His Flying Machine.
If anyone doubts that Gustave Whitehead has been able to fly a limited distance at least, with his
aeroplane, such doubt can be dispelled by viewing the photographs of his flight in the south window of Lyon & Grumman’s hardware store on Main Street. There are two pictures in the window showing Whitehead in his aeroplane about 20 feet from the ground and sailing along. Of course he has not perfected his invention but says that he has frequently flown over half a mile. There are people who believe that Whitehead is all that the newspapers have represented him to be. The photographs show that he has the ability to make short flights.” [Source: ODwyer-Whitehead Archives, Fairfield Museum]
Illustrirte Aeronautische Mitteilungen (Oct. 1901 issue) a reliable German aeronautical journal
After his August 1901 half mile flight, Whitehead wrote to this prominent German aeronautical journal to report his success and they published his very detailed letter, revealing his flight had lasted about 1.5 minutes.
*NEW! “On the second flight test I made an hour later, I removed the ballast and boarded the machine myself. I will never forget the feeling I had. The result was the same as with the first flight. The duration of the flight was 1 1/2 minutes and the distance covered was 2800 feet” [Author’s note: ½ mile].
[Source: ODwyer-Whitehead Archives, Fairfield Museum]