Gustav Weisskopf/Gustave Whitehead's Travels

Weisskopf/Whitehead Arrives in Bridgeport
© 2013 - Carroll F. Gray
Posted: July 18, 2013

      Gustav Weisskopf arrived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, during August of 1900, in the company of Louis Darvarich. Weisskopf and Darvarich had left Pittsburgh in June, intending to bicycle their way to Boston (a distance of some 590 miles) where Weisskopf hoped to resume his aeronautical work - "Gus" had been unemployed for six months. Along the route, however, they sold their bicycles and bought train tickets. During a train stop in Bridgeport, still en route to Boston, they connected with Darvarich's friend, George Egry, and decided to stay put. Egry let them lodge at his home at 348 Hancock Ave. Egry lived in the West End, an area regarded as an Hungarian colony - tight-knit and mutually supportive.

      Gustav had been using his anglicized name, "Gustave 'Gus' Whitehead," since at least 1897/98. It appears he used "Gustav Weisskopf" for some short period of time after arriving in Bridgeport, but then began using Gustave "Gus" Whitehead, once again. It is safe to say he probably used both versions of his name.

      In 1899 Stephen Horvath (and presumably the Horvath family, Mari, and their two sons, Gyula, 10, and Nicholas, 12) also lived at 348 Hancock Ave. Gyula Horvath would become a central figure in the Weisskopf/Whitehead controversy.

The Association's West End

      In 1900, Bridgeport was a metal manufacturing center, and was home to many European immigrants. Unlike the Hungarians, who clustered together in the West End, other ethnic and national groups were spread across Bridgeport. The social organizations which Bridgeport's pioneer Hungarian population had established during the preceding dozen years were cohesive, vibrant and supportive, most especially the Rakoczi Aid Association (Rákóczi Segélyező Egyesület), which provided insurance to its members, as well as being a social hub. A few years prior to 1900, the Association had also helped develop the West End - it purchased, parceled and placed for sale to its members, the blocks bounded by Howard and Bostwick Avenues, and Wordin and Cherry Streets, an area where much of Weisskopf's aeronautical work would be done over the next few years.

Wilmot & Hobbs       George Egry was employed at "The Wilmot & Hobbs M'f'g Co.," as were many of the West End's workers. Wilmot & Hobbs was a large facility, with smokestacks and numerous specialized buildings, where rolled and formed hot and cold steel was made into the bands, tubes, strips, and plates consumed by other factories making finished goods. Wilmot & Hobbs was located on the West End's northern boundary, above Cherry St., and adjacent to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Road tracks which ran across Bridgeport in a lazy "S." Perhaps with Egry's assistance, Weisskopf soon had a job at Wilmot & Hobbs, hauling the coal which fed the factory furnace's perpetual fires.

      Business had been improving since 1897 and the national economy was on the mend, after the disastrous Panic of 1893 and the subsequent four years of high unemployment and economic doldrums. By 1900, the unemployment rate was down to 5.0% from its frightening 1894 high of 18.4%. Weisskopf would work at Wilmot & Hobbs in various jobs for a number of years, returning to work there when circumstances required it.

GW's workshop plan

No. 21 and shed - danger keep out

No. 21 from above and behind 2       By November of 1900, Louise and two-year old baby Rose ("Rosie" to her parents) left Pittsburgh and joined Gustav, who was then living at 241-1/2 Pine St., a short block from Wilmot & Hobbs. The house was a converted barn with a simple floor plan, and had been used to house German butcher Frederick Lomnitzer's animals. After a bank account was opened for him by his first Bridgeport financial backer, Herman Miller (or Mueller), Gustav soon had constructed a rude workshop adjacent to their home, back near the southeast corner of the lot, where he worked on and kept his No. 21 monoplane. Painted in white on the two half-span full-height doors was something akin to "KEEP OUT - DANGER" - a warning to the many youngsters drawn to his mysterious workshop and the machine it sheltered.

      The house at 241 Pine St., facing on the Pine St., has been mistakenly identified as the Weisskopf's home - it was not their residence. The building at 241 Pine St. was built as tenements after butcher Lomnitzer's shop burned down in 1899.

      The Hungarian Reformed Church and the priest's house were immediately next to the workshop and the Weisskopf home. About 1904, the church building was replaced by a much larger structure on a now-doubled lot, and became the Hungarian Evangelical Reformed Church. After the new church was built, and the priest’s house moved towards Pine St., Mrs. Weisskopf could see the priest's new vegetable garden directly beyond her kitchen window. The church had strong ties to Hungary, and participated in the Hungarian government’s plan, known as the “American Action Plan,” to forestall assimilation and to encourage Hungarian emigrants to eventually return to Hungary. The mother church, in Hungary, provided funds and other forms of support to the member churches in the U.S. The Hungarian Reformed Church was nationalistic, retaining a strong cultural identity and served as one of the social anchors holding the West End together.

      In the close-knit, overlapping and congenial atmosphere of the West End, everyone knew - or thought they knew - everyone else, as well as everyone else’s business. In the case of Gustav Weisskopf, not only was his work spoken of, but it appeared in print, and not only in the local newspapers (and less than a year after his arrival), but New York and Boston newspapers, and other places, as well. Not everyone's efforts at ekeing out a living in that hardscrabble West End enclave found their way into print, and not everyone in the West End thought that being mentioned in print was necessarily a good or enviable thing to have happen.