Impromptu Interview of Harvey H. Lippincott by William J. O'Dwyer
at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Rhinebeck, New York, ca. 1980-81

Posted : October 6, 2013

Accurate & Complete Interview Transcript, With Notes & Commentary - In Red - by Carroll F. Gray
Susan Brinchman, Daughter of Wm. J. O'Dwyer, Is Believed To Have Posted This Video On YouTube

O'Dwyer: Harv, uh, being here at Old Rhinebeck, and seeing you and seeing Bob Stepanek again today, uh, brings back good memories of when we did the Whitehead research together.

Lippincott: That's right.

O'Dwyer: And I was wondering if for the German listening audience you could, uh, recall when we got into it, and why we got into the research of Whitehead.

Lippincott: Well, when we started the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association in 1959, we were aware that Gustave Whitehead was one of the early Connecticut aviation pioneers. We'd read some snatches of information about him but knew very little about him. We recognized that he was one of the men who would require considerable research, uh, into his history and activities, uh, to certainly at least record them. Some of our, uh, early members of the association, uh, living in the Bridgeport area did, uh, some superficial research in collecting, uh, some pictures and newspaper accounts.

O'Dwyer: What date was that, Harvey ?

Lippincott: That would date from about, uh, 1961 - 62. But it was not until you found a set of pictures, uh, which were labeled "Whitehead Effort"…

(Note the "Whitehead Effort" photos, of a large, heavy, underpowered biplane - not in flight - date to 1910, and so are not relevant to the matter of whether Whitehead flew prior to the Wright brothers)

O'Dwyer: "Whitehead Effort" yeah

Lippincott: … and you took them to the Bridgeport Post which ran… had run some articles upon the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association, and asked what was this effort. Well, this got us all together, and all of our interest was increased about the Whitehead story, and you in particularly (sic) took a deep interest and we encouraged you to take a deep interest because we were 50 miles up at Hartford, Connecticut, and you were in the Bridgeport area where it all took place and those who are living near an event…

O'Dwyer: (unintelligible) …point

Lippincott: … have a better opportunity to research and put the time in and you have very generously did it…

O'Dwyer: Well…

Lippincott: … and have done a splendid job of pulling the research together.

O'Dwyer: Because of our joint research, though, this would include Stella Randolph's work in the 30's, your work at CHA (sic) before I got into it and then our joint work, mutually together, how do you see Whitehead fitting into the history of world aviation... history (sic) ?

Lippincott: He is in Connecticut the man who made the first airplane, the first airplane engines, and uh, we believe that he was a very early earnest experimenter, ah, attempting to solve the problem of flight. From the research that we - and particularly from what you did and from my observation of it - it appears that he was in flight, uh, in this very early period of 1901 - 1902, but not to the extent that some of the accounts give. I cannot accept the fact that he flew seven miles… (Note how carefully Lippincott choses his words - while O'Dwyer asks about "the history of world aviation" Lippincott answers that Whitehead is the person "in Connecticut"…)

O'Dwyer: Neither can I. (Note both O'Dwyer and Stella Randolph had offered the "Long Island Sound" "flights" - miles in length - as evidence of Whitehead's flying - so for O'Dwyer to disavow those "flights" is surprising)

Lippincott: ...but I can accept the fact that this airplane of his may have flown 100 - 200 feet 10 - 15 feet off the ground. And this is confirmed by the witnesses that we have interviewed and talked with and this seems reasonable for the state of the art in aviation at that time. (Note Lippincott offers the conciliatory position that Whitehead "may have flown 100 - 200 feet and 15 feet off the ground." )

O'Dwyer: How reliable would you say, uh, the testimony of, uh, Mrs. Koteles, uh, was when she spoke with us that time.

Lippincott: I was quite impressed with what she said. Obviously not attuned to, uh, aeronautics or airplanes…

O'Dwyer: … but credible…

Lippincott: … or their capabilities, but, uh, I think that, uh, she explained what she saw.

O'Dwyer: … sincere

Lippincott: … yes…

O'Dwyer: testimony… (Note how O'Dwyer offers words to Lippincott)

Lippincott: Yes, sincere testimony and she explained exactly what she saw.

O'Dwyer: In your personal opinion do you believe that Whitehead flew in time of 1901 - 1902 ?

Lippincott: Yes, I do. There might have been some limitations to, uh, the flight but he was in, uh, he was in the air, in my opinion…

O'Dwyer: ... For the state of the art for what it was… (Note how O'Dwyer again offers words to Lippincott)

Lippincott: … for short flights. (Note Lippincott qualifies his "Yes I do." answer by adding "… limitations…" and "… for short flights." - after which O'Dwyer quickly moves to a different topic)

O'Dwyer: Right. Would you rate his engine work as noteworthy ?

Lippincott: For the time, yes, noteworthy. (Note Lippincott qualifies his response about Whitehead's engine building by adding "For the time, yes…" - meaning Whitehead's engine "work" did not influence later engine builders)

O'Dwyer: With Whitehead, uh, having been forgotten or ignored - or whatever - through the years, uh, I think the German audience would appreciate knowing if, in your opinion, uh, as a historian, a well-recognized historian, that Whitehead deserves a place of honor among the list of early pioneers in world history ?

Lippincott: I believe he deserves a place of honor, yes. (Note O'Dwyer's use of "ignored" - a clear reference to his belief that the Smithsonian ignored Whitehead; in response, Lippincott does not offer that Whitehead was "The First To Fly" - he agrees with the innocuous "place of honor" credit offered by O'Dwyer)

O'Dwyer: Thank you.

Unidentified German-accented speaker, apparently the videographer: (unintelligible) … one question more. Why do you believe there's no more people as a small group of interested people, recognize the fact that he has flown ?

Lippincott: This is, uh, I think because, uh, the accomplishments of the Wright brothers that were very thoroughly documented by themselves at the time to prove, uh, what they did, and through the years this has become the real basis of fact and interest and acknowledgement. Whitehead unfortunately... apparently did not keep the records that some of the other pioneers did - I mean the written records - and some of the photographic records that are sort of required by historians today to, to really establish the veracity of what was done… (Note Lippincott is saying that the Wright brothers had proof of their flights and the "veracity" of Whitehead's claims was not established due to lack of records)

O'Dwyer: Harvey…

Lippincott: … it is looked at today more as shall we say circumstantial evidence of what he did.

(Note Lippincott's statement about the Wright brothers, their records and photographs, and Whitehead's evidence being "circumstantial" causes O'Dwyer to grasp for an explanation of why Whitehead's records were lacking, as O'Dwyer asks Lippincott to "yield")

O'Dwyer: Harvey, would you, uh, yield to this point, though. I, myself don't feel we can any further accuse Whitehead of not having kept records, because we have found many records that he did keep that became dispersed through time. And it was only because he did have those records and we inherited them - ahem - by finding them, isn't it possible that he did keep other records which may have become lost, as well ?

Lippincott: It is possible that he may have kept them, they may have been lost, but they don't exist, today. (Note Lippincott responds by saying that whether the Whitehead records ever existed or not, they "don't exist today." - challenging O'Dwyer's explanation)

O'Dwyer: But others, if they had been involved earlier than when we found them in the 1960's, I feel very well convinced that they could have found a lot more than we did.

Lippincott: Well, that's true that people did not dig into Whitehead at an early date, which if they had we might have had a better picture of what he did. This is not necessarily unique with Whitehead, it's happened to other pioneers, where they - the records just don't exist today it's very difficult to accept all their claims of what they did or did not do. (Note Lippincott points out that Whitehead's lack of records was not a unique case, effectively responding to O'Dwyer's implication that Whitehead was purposefully ignored, a belief that O'Dwyer was well-known to hold - in that light, O'Dwyer's comment "But others, if they had been involved earlier…" certainly refers to O'Dwyer's belief that the Smithsonian actively ignored Whitehead)

O'Dwyer: That's the whole point of museums today, uh, is (sic) at least our type of museum, trying to collect that…

Lippincott: yeah, yeah, yeah…

O'Dwyer: … memorabilia. Well, it was nice to see you here today... and, uh (video ends)