PRUCKNER, Anton T.
Affidavit, July 16, 1934
I, ANTON T. PRUCKNER, 79 Scofield Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut, do depose and declare that I, personally was acquainted with the late Gustave Whitehead and was employed by him in the construction of motors and heavier than air flying machines.
I have known the late Gustave Whitehead since 1899, and was employed by him when he had his shop in the yard back of his home at 241 Pine Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was present and assisted him on practically every occasion when he tested his airplanes. it was our custom to do most of this testing in the early mornings in order to avoid the danger that crowds of children about the machines would create at other times.
Because of the lack of finances the said Mr. Whitehead was unable to construct his planes as well as he wished. About 1900 he obtained some financial help from a man named Stanley Y. Beach. The first flights made by Mr. Whitehead lasted only approximately five minutes' time and the plane rose not more than fifteen to thirty feet from the ground.
In the construction of motors we experimented with gun powder, but i was afraid of this type of engine, and once when Mr. Whitehead had a severe explosion with it, he finally gave up using it. We also experimented with steam-driven motors. I recall one time when a pipe heated by the steam became so soft as to bend. At last we worked on gasoline-driven air-cooled motors, only. The last motor I recall helping Mr. Whitehead construct was 250 h.p. It had eight cylinders and a big bore. Mr. Whitehead had considerable difficulty with Mr. Beach, and this engine was taken by Mr. Beach and put into a boat. I believe it is the one which Mr. Beach caused to be sunk in the Sound as a result of increasing its speed too suddenly.
I personally know the facts, as stated in Mr. Whitehead's letter to the Editor of the American Inventor, and published in the issue of April 1, 1902 to be true. I flew in this machine with Mr. Whitehead in the first flight he mentions as having taken place on January 17, 1902, (underlined is lined through on original) and I saw him make the second (underlined is lined through on original) flight across the Sound to which he refers. I know the facts, as stated in the following paragraph quoted from his letter to be exactly as stated therein:
"This machine has been tried twice, on January 17, 1902. It was intended to fly only short distances, but the machine behaved so well that at the first trial it covered nearly two miles over the water of Long Island Sound, and settled in the water without mishap to either machine or operator. It was then towed back to the starting place. On the second trial it started from the same place and sailed with myself on board across Long Island Sound. The machine kept on steadily in crossing the wind at a height of about 200 feet, when it came into my mind to try steering around in a circle. As soon as I turned the rudder and drove propeller faster than the other the machine turned a bend and flew north with the wind at a frightful speed, but turned steadily around until I saw the starting place in the distance. I continued to turn but when near the land again, I slowed up the propellers and sank gently down on an even keel into the water, she readily floating like a boat. My men then pulled her out of the water, and as the day was at a close and the weather changing for the worse, I decided to take her home until Spring."
I do not recall the names of any other persons who witnessed this particular trial, or assisted in towing the boat to the shore. This was only one of a number of short flights we had made, as Mr. Whitehead tried to avoid crowds as much as possible we rarely had people about if we could avoid it. I recall experiments made with gliders also, and many times flew in them, or towed them for their start. I also assisted Mr. Whitehead in his later work on the helicopter which was never completed perfectly.
Subscribed and sown to before me this 16th day of July 1934.
Regarding the above Affidavit, Stella Randolph, The Story of Gustave Whitehead - Before The Wrights Flew
, 1966, p. 140, "Hence, he did not fully comprehend the affidavit which he signed on July 16, 1934, prepared for him to the best of the writer's ability to interpret his statements."
Stella Randolph first typed notes, (undated, ca. 1935)
ANTON T. PRUCKNER, 72 Scofield Avenue. I flew with him. I was only a young boy, about nineteen then. Mr. Whitehead first set up his shop in the yard in Pine Street about 1901-02. I knew him in 1899. In 1900 he had a fellow help him with money. He worked with his inventions in the evenings , and I worked to help him along. He never had enough money to make his inventions the way he wanted to. He did fly over the water. This was about 1901, before I was married. [note: married in 1902] It was on Fairfield Beach. The first flights were for only about 5 minutes time and about 15 to 30 feet off the ground. We did our flying usually early in the mornings because during the day too many children were around and it was too dangerous. Mr. Whitehead had a plane with wings that folded back like a bird. First we put in a gun powder engine. It was not successful. I was afraid of it. Once he had an explosion that was pretty severe and then he stopped experimenting with it. From then on we stuck to air-cooled engines. The last one he built was 250 h.p. Beach took it away and put it in a boat. Later Mr. Whitehead got it back and I do not recall what finally became of it. It had eight cylinders and a big bore. Once Beach had a boy come up at night and steal a motor from the shop. That time Mr. Whitehead was angry and ready to hit him over the head with a wrench. Beach put one motor in a boat and sunk it in the sound. We used gasoline engines. I always flew with Mr. Whitehead. One time we both flew out over the water. Another time he flew alone. The facts as stated in the American Inventor for (date) I know are absolutely true. I was with Mr. Whitehead when this occurred. We also experimented with gliders. I flew in these also. Once when we were using steam a pipe bent it became so hot.
Mrs. Whitehead said Mr. W. used to get boilers and blow them up trying to discover how much pressure he could put upon certain metals. Sometimes the neighbors' windows went out. They were good and mad. One night a man tried to have the police get Mr. W., but they didn't come.
Stella Randolph typed notes, January 2, 1936
After dinner Mr. Steeves came to take me out searching. He took me to Pruckner's. They were very kind and Mr. Pruckner gave me further information (see affidavit). They told me also that Prof. Crane had come to them and said he had received my permission to interview them. They felt he was an imposter, however, and had not given him any information.
Affidavit, January 3, 1936
I, Anton Pruckner, residing at 79 Scofield Avenue, declare the following to be fact to the best of my knowledge and belief:
Picture no. 32, showing boatshaped plane with propellers on either side, a group of four men in the foreground with steam motor on the ground before them, was taken on the then vacant lot on Cherry Street across from the Wilmot and Hobbs Company (now the American Tube and Stamping Company) where later a small shop was built in which Gustave Whitehead pursued his construction of airplanes. It was at this shop that he was visited on several occasions by the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, during the period between 1900 and 1903. I believe the time of their visits was actually prior to 1902 because I left Bridgeport for two years, going sometime in 1902. Upon my return I again worked with Gustave Whitehead at times with his experiments. Picture No. 25 shows the shop which was constructed on Cherry Street where the Wright Brothers visited.
The folding winged planes shown in pictures No. 2 to No. 2-C were the ones in which we tried out the gunpowder engines. Mr. Whitehead cranked the engine and I ran. I heard it puff and puff, then all was quiet, we thought nothing was going to occur, when all at once there was a terrific explosion. The engine was too dangerous and we gave up trying it. The planes were built on Pine Street.
The engine pictured in No. 4 was constructed about 1903.
Picture No. 6 displaying a man in a glider does not appear to be Mr. Whitehead.
Picture No. 11 belongs to a period earlier than 1901, but I do not know just when.
The engines with copper wound upon them to irradiate heat, Nos. 5, 5-A and 37 were constructed about 1902. No. 37 was earlier than the three cylinder engines. They were not very successful in the airplanes and Mr. Whitehead sold them.
No. 2-C shows an automobile towing a plane. The car is a T.B. MacDonald, I believe.
No. 9 and 9-B flew, but not over the Sound. They were used in flights, straight ones, over the ground.
Sworn & Witnessed
Letter, Albert F. Zahm to Anton Pruckner, June 17, 1936
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (letterhead)
June 17, 1936
Mr. Anton Prückner
79 Schofield Avenue
Dear Mr. Prückner:
This office tries to obtain, for permanent record, first-hand reports of important aviation achievements.
I am told you witnessed some early power-plane flights of Gustave Whitehead. Can you say for certain that you ever saw him fly some considerable distance, say more than 500 or 1000 feet, without touching the earth? About how far and how high are you sure you saw him fly in his power-driven monoplane? Did you ever fly with him a distance of several hundred feet without touching ground?
If Whitehead made true power flights before 1903 those achievements are very important and should be permanently recorded. His skilled assistants can tell such facts as they remember for certain, and thereby do honor to Mr. Whitehead and his family. I would like to place such true testimony on file in the Library of Congress, along with our many other aviation records.
If you can answer the above question you will greatly oblige this Library and do a service to history. Please find enclosed a small item for your convenience in case you wish to have your reply typewritten.
Let me add that I spent some years with skilled workmen in the Curtiss Airplane Factory, and so I specially value a skilled men's judgement and testimony about airplane performance.
Very truly yours,
Chief, Division of Aeronautics
Letter, Junius W. Harworth to Stella Randolph, August 27, 1936
He had also said that he had talked to Pruckner and that he had repudiated his statements to you. I am wondering if this Dr. C. [John B. Crane] is going about paying these people to do so. This has been done before in other matters.
Letter, Junius W. Harworth to Stella Randolph, August 13, 1953 "... on a previous wedding trip to Bridgeport, I looked up and found Anton Pruckner hospitalized and going blind." (ca. 1950)
DATE Oct. 30, 1964
I, ANTON PRUCKNER, living at 5561 Morehouse Highway, Fairfield, Connecticut, do hereby declare under oath, that I personally was acquainted with the late Gustave Whitehead and worked in his employ for a number of years, both part and full time. We worked in the construction of aircraft engines of many types which were of his design and were used in connection with his experiments of powered flight.
I was born in Hungary and came to the United States at the age of 17 in the year 1900. My schooling consisted of two years highschool which was all that was required. Then you would go to school for engineering. I spent two years in engineering school (mechanical). During those entire four years I had to serve my apprenticeship in a factory-training school as a machinist. I graduated from that school as a journeyman machinist. Had I competed two more years of engineering, I would have received my diploma as an engineer. Instead, I chose to come to America. I did receive a diploma for the apprentice work of machinist and I have submitted this document along with a copy of my birth certificate for your files at CAHA. I was fully qualified when I arrived in the United Sates to work on mechanical machinery of all types. I can swear to the fact that Gustave Whitehead was an excellent mechanic and was an expert in designing new type engines and other ingenious items necessary for the building of his aircraft. He would often times just make a sketch on a board or in the dirt for what we should be making. Seldom did he draw plans on paper in any great detail. It was mostly trail and error.
I lived across the street from the shop which Whitehead used while he experimented at 241 Pine Street. I was curious to find out what he was making and speaking a little German, I found he was trying to build a machine that would fly in the air. I immediately went to work with him when he asked if I would like to help. Always wanting to learn something new, this talk of flying make me interested.
At this time I wish to declare that certain parts of an affidavit made by me on July 16, 1934 and which was published in Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead (written by Miss Stella Randolph and published by PLACES, INC., in 1937) referring to the 7-mile flight over Long Island Sound was confusing. I have had a fully detailed description of what that statement claimed explained to me during the period of the many interviews made in this new research. I see now where I did not fully understand the references made to flights made over Long Island Sound. It was not intended to mean in any statement that I saw a 7-mile flight take place. What I thought that statement said was I knew that the flight took place because of talk by those who had seen it and because Whitehead, himself, told me he made it. When I spoke of a flight that I witnessed, it did not happen at Lordship. We made many flights over Long Island Sound at Seaside Park in Bridgeport.
When I arrived back from Elizabethport, N. J., where I worked for a short time, I heard about the long 7-mile flight over the water. I believe Whitehead made that flight, as his aircraft did fly well and with the bigger engine we had built, the plane was capable of such a flight. Whitehead was of fine moral character, and never in all the long time I was associated with him or know him did he ever appear to exaggerate. I have never known him to lie; he was a very truthful man. I believed him then when he said he flew, and I still believe he did what he said. I have no reason to believe otherwise. I saw his aircraft fly on many occasions and I see no need to disbelieve this particular event.
The aircraft had two engines, one for the power of the propellors and the other for powering the wheels on the body of the plane. With the wings folded back, we would run along the streets on the way to the testing area with that power. It was also used when taking off for flights. Once in the air, that engine was shut off.
I did witness and was present at the time of the August 14, 1901 flight. The flight was about 1/2 mile in distance overall and about 50 feet or so in the air. The plane circled a little to one side and landed easily with no damage to it or the engine or the occupant who was Gustave Whitehead.
We made many aircraft engines; gun-powder, kerosene, and gasoline. I can recall very little at this late date about the engine referred to as calcium carbide. The first gasoline engine being constructed by Whitehead was a two-cylinder one, which ran nicely. There was no carburetor: the ignition system was the "make and break" type. Next Whitehead and I made a three-cylinder engine with an unusual air-cooling device, using loops of copper wire wrapped about the cylinder wall. You have a photo of this engine. No welding was done. Only a blacksmith could weld at the time, and he could not do this on a cylinder. Whitehead tried many types of engines in airplanes including the three-cylinder engine, but one which was most successful was the four-cylinder design.
We used to take the craft known as #21 but unlike #21 it had only a single propellor at the time. The rest of the aircraft was the same. (I would call this airplane #20). This craft was flown many times in distances of 150 to 300 feet out over the waters at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn. (I have located the area with a visit to that site with Capt. O'Dwyer, to the best of my ability and recollection). We would start on the hard-packed ground which was sandy and the craft would rise in the air about five feet or more and continue on a straight course out to the water and land in the shallow part of the water. This was done in order to avoid any hard landings on the ground which could possibly damage the aircraft. This was in the year 1900 and the early part of 1901.
I understand Capt. O'Dwyer plans to build a reproduction model of his #21 aircraft. All I can say is hang on well, because it is going to go up. You must do this to find out if it will leave the ground! I am not in the need of this type of proof, I saw it fly back in 1900 and 1901. You will see what I mean.
I think the work you people have done is a wonderful thing. I just wish poor old "Gus" could have been recognized before this. He was a very smart man and a good man. I would say he was a genius without any doubt.
I can also remember very clearly when the Wright brothers visited at Whitehead's shop here in Bridgeport before 1903. I was present and saw them myself. I know this to be true, because they introduced themselves to me at the time. In no way am I confused, as some people have felt, with the Wittemann brothers who came here after 1906. I knew Charles Wittemann well. The Wright's left here with a great deal of information and [text blacked out]
I hereby swear that all the foregoing statements were made by me during various interview with Capt. O'Dwyer and others of the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association: Harvey Lippincott, Alex Gardner, and Harold Dolan.
All of this letter has been read to me in both English and in the native language of my country which is Hungarian.
I hope this statement clears up any previous misunderstandings.
During the translation I requested the above lines be deleted as they did not represent the exact statement I would like to have go on record. Note - I turned 18 the day after I stepped off the boat. Pages 1-2-3 Read O.K.
Signed: Anton Pruckner
subscribed and sworn to before me this 30th day of Oct. 1964
Wm. J. O' Dwyer, Capt. USAF
(second witness, illegible name)
Notary Public Col. AF Res.