Note that on the 1900 Census, Gustave Whitehead is using his anglicized name, and his birth month and year are given as "Oct" "1874" - although his birthdate is January 1, 1874. He lists his year of immigration as 1893 (distinctly written as "1893"), and is noted as not being a naturalized citizen. He is also able to read and write, and speak English. The 1910 Census, below, states that Gustave Whitehead is an "Alien" and he can speak English, as well as read and write, is self employed ("OA" meaning "Own Account") and owns his home with a mortgage. The last number of his year of immigration is indistinct and could be a "3" or a "5" or another number.
The 1900 and 1910 Census forms report that Whitehead was not a naturalized citizen, while the 1917 document states that he was a citizen of Brazil, and 18 months later he was declaring himself to be a "Native Born" US citizen. Whitehead was not a naturalized citizen, and knowing that he was born at Leutershausen, Bavaria, he - of course - could not have been a "Native Born" US citizen. On the US patent granted to Whitehead on March 10, 1908, he claimed to be a US citizen… "Be it known that I, GUSTAVE WHITEHEAD, a citizen of the United States…" Whitehead also swore to being a US citizen on the patent application, dated December 20, 1905.
What other documents are available ? There was a military draft during World War I - the Great War - and 'Gus' Whitehead registered, as he was required to. Here is his registration card.
Note that on this official document 'Gus' Whitehead claims to be a "Native Born" US citizen. The document (serial #4533) is dated September 12, 1918, a little over 18 months after he completed the Connecticut Military Census and claimed to be a citizen of Brazil. He also states that he is a "Farmer" - by the fall of 1918 he was no longer identifying himself as a machinist. The loss of vision in his left eye might well be a significant part of the reason.
At least a few things remain constant - Whitehead is noted as being able to speak English on the Census forms and can read and write. Whitehead, who claimed he survived at least one shipwreck (and possibly three), who spent years as a sailor studying marine birds while at sea, who sailed the Atlantic and who claimed to have flown over and around Long Island Sound in January 1902, stated he could not "Handle a boat, power or sail…" and had no experience in "… simple coastwise navigation…" On his marriage certificate from November 1897, Gustav Weisskopf (he hadn't yet anglicized his name) stated that his occupation was "Aeronaut." On the 1917 Connecticut Military Census form he stated, truthfully, that his occupation was "Machinist." He chose to answer "no" to the question "Have you experience in any other Trade, Occupation or Profession ?" He might have answered "yes" since he had been a sailor for years, yet he didn't. As a youth he'd been apprenticed to a bookbinder and to a locksmith, but made no mention of those occupations, either. His citizenship status was fluid, to say the least - and his statement that he was a "Native Born" US citizen is certainly untrue. The possibility that this was an error is very slight, given that the answers came as a direct result of an interview and were attested to as being accurate by the person who conducted the interview. It's not a simple matter to understand why Whitehead would claim to be a native born citizen in 1918, except for the high tide of feeling against all things German at the time, as WWI was raging. This is the period when a "frankfurter" became a "hot dog," and the royal family in the UK dropped their family name as the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to became the House of Windsor. However, Gustave and his family lived in an area of Bridgeport which was filled with Austro-Hungarian immigrants having ties to the homeland through their church and social organizations. Mrs. Louise Whitehead was an Austro-Hungarian immigrant and Gustave was well-known in the largely self-sufficient Austro-Hungarian enclave in the West End of Bridgeport, so any direct confrontation with bigotry or anti-German hostility seems less probable than it might otherwise have been. The statements Whitehead made - claiming to be a US citizen in 1905 on his patent application, claiming to be a citizen of Brazil in 1917 and claiming to be a "Native Born" US citizen in 1918 - were all false and were made to people charged with ensuring that the forms accurately recorded Gustave Whitehead's statements, as he gave them. Gustave Whitehead was the source of each of those false statements, beyond any reasonable doubt.
and consciously, and more than once, on official documents.
Beyond discussing whether or not Whitehead flew in the modern meaning of that word, there are other topics to pursue in assessing whether or not Whitehead was a truthful person. There is a good bit of material available regarding the associations Gustave Whitehead was known to have had as well as those he claimed. Whitehead, at various times, was quoted in the press of the time as saying he was a student of and worked with famed aerial scientist and experimenter Otto Lilienthal, that he was associated with Hiram Maxim during the time Maxim was experimenting with his enormous steam-powered "Test Rig," and, finally, Whitehead claimed some association with Smithsonian Secretary and aerial experimenter Samuel P. Langley, although the specifics (for example dates and locations) of each claim are not to be found.
Nikolaus Weiskopf received letters and photographs through the years from Gustave, and so knew of events in Gustave's life. The answers Nikolaus gives to Randolph are straightforward and unadorned - Gustave was not shanghaied. Junius Harworth's statement that 'Gus" told him he'd been shanghaied might well be true - Whitehead might have told young Harworth such a thing - but 'Gus' was a voluntary crew member onboard the ships he worked. Nikolaus also wrote an unambiguous "No" next to the questions of whether or not Gustave knew the Lilienthals. Gustave did not know Otto and Gustav Lilienthal, regardless of what Gustave told numerous reporters and young Junius Harworth. While Gustave's brother telling Stella Randolph that Gustave did not know the Lilienthals is substantial evidence, there is also circumstantial evidence that he could not have been associated with the Lilienthals directly, in the way in which he said he was, as a student and assistant. Gustave was also on record saying that he had watched Otto Lilienthal fly gliders, thereby claiming a direct association.
In addition to stating 1893 as the year of his arrival in the US, Whitehead's 1900 US Census form states that he continuously resided in the US during the seven years from his arrival to the date of the 1900 Census, June 16, 1900 - Whitehead's subsequent movements within the US are documented. He therefore did not leave the US between his arrival (likely February of 1893) and his death on October 10, 1927. A timeline appearing on a German web site devoted to Whitehead assumes that he arrived in the US during 1895 (perhaps prompted by a mis-reading of the 1910 US Census immigration date), after he was involved with Lilienthal during 1894, but that is contradicted by the 1900 US Census, and therefore should be discounted as false. Otto Lilienthal's important book "Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst" ("Bird flight as a Basis of Aviation") was published in 1889, and he began experimenting with his "Derwitzer Glider" during the summer of 1891, after Whitehead had set sail from Bremen to Brazil. Otto Lilienthal's gliding experiments came to worldwide notice after photographs were published in late 1893 of him flying during that summer, using his Modell 93 'bat-wing' glider, the precursor to his famous Normalapparat glider. Therefore it appears that the only period during which Whitehead could possibly have been associated with Lilienthal and could have seen Lilienthal gliding would have been between the summer of 1891 and the summer or fall of 1892, some fifteen months. Lilienthal made flights each weekend during the summer months, as well as on several evenings during the fall of 1891 and 1892. However, Whitehead was at sea during those fifteen months and so could not have been associated with or been the "student" of Otto Lilienthal. Additionally, the names of Lilienthal's assistants and co-workers are known and the name "Weißkopf" is not among them. Whitehead's brother John told Randolph that "Any thing further I writing down heare (sic) is what my brother related to me at that time. According to this he left Ansbach at the age of 15 or 16 with the intention of going to the states [the USA] the eldorado then of all those that intend to inprove there (sic) condition but as he reached Bremen on[e] of the chief ports of Germany he found an Emigrant ship destin (sic) for shoutern (sic) Brasil, as far as I know subsidized by the Brasilian government, at least the emigrants where for some time not having any chance himself to get accepted (he being to (sic) young) some German family took pity and sponsored him by pretending him (sic) was there son. It was this way he got to Brasil landing at Porto Allegro [Porto Alegre] either 1889 or 1890."
(Notice that John relates nothing about his brother being shanghaied in Hamburg, or even of Gustave being in Hamburg. According to John, Gustave told him that he went from Ansbach to Bremen.)
Whitehead is reported to have entered the US at Boston, and according to the 1900 US Census he arrived during 1893. He is also said to have been involved in three shipwrecks during his time under sail at sea and along the coast of the US. If those threads are connected, they suggest that he arrived during February of 1893, when two ships - and only two ships, both schooners carrying coal from Baltimore to Boston, were wrecked at the approach to Boston Harbor. It's known that Whitehead lived in Baltimore, Maryland, at some point, and given that the Enos B. Phillips and the Glenwood were both out of Baltimore, it is possible that Whitehead was living in Baltimore during January 1893 but not earlier, since he arrived in the US in 1893. He might also have moved to Baltimore after the shipwreck on Harding Ledge. At about 10pm on February 19, 1893, during a raging snowstorm, the 23-year old schooner Enos B. Phillips struck Harding Ledge, a shoal near Hingham, Massachusetts, at the approach to Boston Harbor. The crew of seven managed to abandon ship and was rescued. The Enos B. Phillips took on water and sank about midnight. On February 22, 1893, at 3:30am, the three-year old schooner Glenwood also struck Harding Ledge during a "thick snow storm" and was stranded - its crew of eleven was rescued. After each wreck, the Point Allerton Lifesaving Station kept the crew overnight, provided clothing and boots as necessary, and arranged for free transportation to Boston on the OCRR - Old Colony Railroad. A working hypothesis would be that Gustave Whitehead was a member of one of the two crews. A list of names for each ship of the rescued crew members has not been located. Gustave told family members he survived shipwrecks at Savannah, Georgia; Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; and off "Cape Cod," Massachusetts - an apparent reference to the Harding Ledge shipwreck.
The construction of Hiram Maxim's "Test Rig" began in mid-1889, and his experiments with the 3-½ ton, 34m (110 ft) wing span behemoth were conducted at Bexley, Kent, England, during 1894 (with some activity in 1895). It is therefore not possible for Whitehead to have been present, since he was living in the US and did not leave.
1894-95 is certainly false.
It's understandable that Whitehead would have had an interest in the Maxim machine and the tests, since he had ready access to information about Maxim's work in the 1896 and 1897 Aeronautical Annual which Whitehead had taken in November of 1897 from the Buffalo Public Library and never returned, along with Octave Chanute's 1894 Progress In Flying Machines, the Aeronautical Annual for 1895, and Proceedings of the International Conference on Aerial Navigation published 1894 - a total of 5 books.
The 1896 edition of Aeronautical Annual published Hiram Maxim's article Natural And Artificial Flight and the 1897 edition of Aeronautical Annual published Maxim's Screw Propellers Working In Air.
Whitehead took the design of one of Maxim's most efficient propeller (called a "screw" after the nautical term) - the "Type J" - as his own, using the type on his No. 21 monoplane. While efficient relative to the others Maxim tested, the "Type J" was not very efficient in absolute terms. Nevertheless, Whitehead's use of the design is evidence of his familiarity with Maxim's work. Even though Whitehead was not at Bexley, there are several ways in which he might have learned details of the experiments, especially of the July 31, 1894, test, during which the enormous machine, generating an estimated 10,000 pounds of lift, pulled up away from the restraining rail, breaking it, and careened down its test track at approximately 1m (2 or 3 ft) altitude for a distance of some 180m (600 feet). The two compound steam engines, generating a total of 360 horsepower and driving two 5.33m (17-½ ft) diameter propellers, were shut down and the craft had a hard landing, causing damage. This was a major story in the press of the time, so Whitehead could well have learned of the test through articles. There were also two possible opportunities for Whitehead to have heard firsthand accounts of the "Test Rig" experiments. Bridgeport resident Henry Alonzo House, Sr., was employed by Hiram Maxim to construct the "Test Rig" - and some reports hold that House helped design the machine, as well. Maxim and three companions rode on the "Test Rig" for the July 31, 1895, experiment and House might have been one of the four people aboard. Any possible contact between House and Whitehead would have been after Whitehead moved to Bridgeport in August of 1900. There were earlier opportunities for Whitehead to hear from a "Test Rig" participant with firsthand knowledge and experience of Maxim's experiments. On January 27, 1898, mechanical engineer Edmund Willson Roberts ("Willson" is correct) presented a lecture titled "Flying Machines" to the annual meeting of the Scranton Engineers Club, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Roberts had been Maxim's chief designer and chief assistant during the "Test Rig" experiments of 1894-95, and, like House, might have been aboard the "Test Rig" during that July 31, 1895, test. Roberts repeated the lecture on January 29th at the Scranton Y.M.C.A. and news of his lecture was reported in the Pennsylvania press. The following month, on February 24th, Roberts gave his lecture again, this time to the public, at the Green Ridge (St.) Branch Library in Scranton. His lecture included 50 "views" - stereopticon images - "… representing the development of the flying machine and the most successful modles (sic) that have been made." "… as experimented with by Maxim, Lilienthal and Langley." During February (or March) of 1898, Whitehead and friend Louis Darvarich were heading to Wilcox, Pennsylvania (which had a large German Catholic population), to work in the coal mines under Rasselas. Louise Whitehead remained with her brother in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where the Whitehead family was living, while her husband was away to work. It is certainly possible that Whitehead and/or Darvarich attended E.W. Roberts' lecture. It is also possible that Whitehead learned of the lecture through newspaper accounts. Before heading to Wilcox, Whitehead put one of his flying machines on display in Johnstown and charged admission to view his creation. Details of the device he displayed (probably a glider of some sort) are not known, but it might have been one of the machines he reportedly built in Buffalo, New York, in 1897 - described as failures in the press at the time.
(E.W. Roberts continued in aeronautics and designed lightweight two-cycle, multiple cylinder, in-line engines, founding the Roberts Motor Co., of Sandusky, Ohio, to manufacture aeroplane engines, beginning in late 1910-1911. His "Roberts" engines were very popular with aviators during 1911-1912, known for their reliability, power and light weight.)
There is a slim possibility that Gustave Whitehead might have met Samuel P. Langley during the time Whitehead was working for the Boston Aeronautical Society ("B.A.S.") - the spring and summer of 1896, and the spring of 1897 - Whitehead was no longer associated with the "B.A.S." by August of 1897. Documents of the "B.A.S." are difficult to locate, and Langley's schedule for the period during which Whitehead was with the "B.A.S." has not yet been located. It cannot be totally discounted, therefore, that Whitehead and Langley might have been at the same place at the same time, at some "B.A.S." event. Additional research is being conducted and results will be provided here as updates.
In addition to the false claims Gustave Whitehead made, various other claims about Whitehead are either very misleading, are groundless speculation, or are outright falsehoods, for instance…