Wandering Diogenes - In Search of an Honest Aeronaut

© 2013 - Carroll F. Gray; Posted: August 10, 2013; Updated: September 3, 2013

Whitehead leaps       Even 'Gus' Whitehead's most ardent supporters might grimace at having to endorse his claim of a previous 4-½ mile flight across a valley in a glider, after a running leap off a 2,000-foot mountaintop, during 1897. Others, who might wonder whether - perhaps - he did somehow manage to make a flight on August 14, 1901, could have a problem accepting a 7-mile flight over Long Island Sound during January of 1902.

      In November 1901, Gustave Whitehead stated he would be flying from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to New York City, in a craft capable of carrying 6 people. Not every one of Whitehead's supporters is prepared to believe that one, either.

      Yet, many Whitehead supporters, often termed "Whitehead advocates," accept all of it, the improbable "flights"; the alleged theft by Wilbur and Orville Wright of Whitehead's supposedly important aerodynamic "secrets"; the remarkably absurd claims of "flights" over remarkably long distances for the time; the alleged criminality of those who financed and otherwise supported him. In the minds of many Whitehead advocates, 'Gus' was seldom at fault for anything, and is often portrayed as a perpetual victim of the very people whose money he freely spent.

      If his statements appear naïve or absurd, Whitehead advocates say it is due to faulty translation or some misunderstanding of language, despite Gustave's English being described in November of 1901 as "excellent" - even with his "Weber and Fields" accent (Buffalo Courier November 25, 1901, page 3).

(Joe Weber and Lew Fields - true names Joseph Morris Weber and Moses Schoenfeld - were a very successful and well-known vaudeville comedy act specializing in the use of a German dialect, active in the late 1800's and early 1900's)

      To his supporters, he was apparently not at fault for anything, no matter how minor. When his No. 21 machine was left to the elements during the winter of 1901-02, it was because he had no money to build a shelter for it - even though at that time 'Gus' was telling one reporter after another that the No. 21 machine was "junk" and that he had abandoned it.

      Amongst his defenders and advocates, excuses and rationalizations abound for each and every matter posed against him. When James Dickie stated that so far as he knew Whitehead's machines never flew, Dickie was said to be bitter about having lost money he'd invested in Whitehead's inventions. It's impressive how creative Whitehead advocates have been with excuses and explanations, so many of which have been cobbled together from no or very little evidence, or in the case of Dickie, from undocumented single-source assertions.

      Certainly, Gustave Whitehead deserves a critical appraisal of how honest a person he was, to the extent that is possible to do. 'Gus" left a large volume of quotes and other evidence which yield a clear picture of how Whitehead valued "Truth," although quotes and newspaper articles are not the best possible sources to draw on.

      The distinction between how he saw his many lapses of honesty and whether he was an habitual falsifier is worth considering. If, for example, his "lies" were purposeful, meant to yield some advantage or support in the short term, such as from investors, that's one matter. If, on the other hand, he falsified when there was no particular advantage to be had, that might suggest a pathology of lying - lying for lying's sake.

      It's striking how many of those who assisted 'Gus' were little more than children, aged 10 or 12. Gyula Horvath/Julius Horvath/Junius Harwood was about 11 years old when he met 'Gus' - and according to him, he soon became an essential member of Whitehead's crew of helpers.

NY Sun June 9, 1901 p2

      Perhaps, many of Whitehead's stories about being shanghaied and taken to sea, being chased through the Brazilian jungle by natives, hiding in caves, surviving at least one and possibly three shipwrecks, working with or personally knowing Otto Lilienthal and Hiram Maxim and Samuel P. Langley… perhaps many of those and other similar stories were meant to impress his young helpers.

      It might also be that Whitehead was a sailor in the old tradition, a teller of "sea stories" - seemingly harmless fabrications. He had spent years at sea and so - perhaps - telling such tall tales came easily to him. It seems unlikely that Whitehead could have imagined his tall tales would be documented, remembered and discussed, today.

      The problem with trying to determine whether the claims made by and for Whitehead are true or false is that for each piece of evidence that is put forth by either side of the argument, the other side can pose a counter-argument. Invoking reason and scientific reality has not stemmed the belief of many that Whitehead flew in a heavier-than-air powered machine on August 14, 1901, as the dawn was breaking.

(left) N.Y. SUN, June 9, 1901, p.2 - The spelling of "Lilienthal" as "Silienthal" ("Silly-en-thal") might or might not have been intentional and if intentional, it would have been meant as humor. The first sentence imitates the opening to a children's nursery rhyme… "There was a crooked…" and the New York Sun was well known for just this sort of humor.

      Therefore, perhaps the best place to look for evidence of Whitehead's honesty is on various documents, legal documents - documents that require an honest answer under some penalty for telling falsehoods.

      There are such documents available that provide an insight into Whitehead's honesty.

1900 - 1910 — Not A Naturalized Citizen of the US

      Gustave and his family are listed in the 1900 and 1910 US Federal Censuses. Below is the 1900 Census for the Whitehead family, completed on June 16, 1900 at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where Gustave and family were then living.

      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.

      Stanley Yale Beach arranged for Whitehead's patent application, and assisted him with the costs as well as legal services of a patent attorney. Unless it's assumed that Beach knew Whitehead's claim of US citizenship was false, this would mean Beach was lied to by Whitehead. In any event, on this legal document, a US Patent, Whitehead stated he was a US citizen, which he was not. (Thanks to Peter Vorum for spotting the false citizenship claim on the patent.)

1917 - A Citizen of… Brazil ?

      As US participation in the Great War became more probable, some states began keeping registers of adult males. Connecticut was one such state. Here is the Connecticut Military Census form (#230347, dated March 3, 1917) for Gustave Whitehead of Fairfield, Connecticut.

      One notable answer on the form is his claim to be a citizen of Brazil. Whitehead correctly answers "yes" to "Any experience with a steam engine ?" and "Any experience with High Speed Marine Gasoline Engines ?" Considering his repeated descriptions of his No. 21 "Condor" monoplane as an "automobile," his "yes" answer to "Drive an automobile ?" seems appropriate.

      As for being a citizen of Brazil, while he did spend time on the Brazilian frontier, it's very doubtful he could have attained citizenship. To be born in a non-Portuguese-speaking country, such as Germany, and yet to still be eligible for Brazilian citizenship, an applicant needed to be able to speak Portuguese, be a permanent resident of Brazil for at least 4 years, and have enough personal wealth to be self-supporting. Gustave Whitehead fulfilled none of those requirements.

      In short, Gustav Albin Weißkopf / Gustave Albin Whitehead was not a citizen of Brazil.

(Gustave Whitehead's time in Brazil will be discussed in another article to be posted soon.)

1918 - A "Native Born" Citizen of… the US ?

      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.

Therefore, Whitehead lied over a period of more than a decade, intentionally
and consciously, and more than once, on official documents.

Lilienthal, Maxim, Langley… & Gustave Whitehead ?

      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.

Gustave Whitehead & Lilienthal

Otto Lilienthal

      Whitehead never made a specific claim as to when he spent time with Lilienthal. Some Whitehead advocates have claimed this happened in 1894-95 when he supposedly returned to Germany after some years spent at sea as a sailor. If Whitehead were ever specific about the dates and circumstances of his supposed time with the Lilienthal brothers, Otto and Gustav, it has yet to be found.

      Working with known dates, the period when Whitehead could possibly have been involved with the Lilienthals can be narrowed, and the possibilities do not include 1894-95.

      In the spring of 1887, newly-orphaned 13 year-old Gustave was apprenticed to a bookbinder in Ansbach for some few months, where his paternal grandparents lived. At the time, Ansbach was also home to a family with the last name of "Lilienthal," although it is not known how closely, if at all, this branch of the Lilienthals was related to to Otto Lilienthal and his brother, who were born in Anklam, some 700km (435 miles) to the north of Ansbach.

      Soon after leaving the bookbinder and Ansbach behind, young Whitehead apprenticed to a locksmith in Augsburg, about 130km (80 miles) south of Ansbach. How long he stayed with the locksmith isn't known, but at some point during 1888, Whitehead advocates say, Gustave came to the port city of Hamburg where he was allegedly shanghaied, ending up on an Australian freighter.

      However, Gustave's brother Nikolaus was quite certain that Gustave was not shanghaied, and Gustave's brother John wrote to Stella Randolph that Gustave lived in Ansbach until the age of 15 or 16, meaning until 1889 - 1890, it is therefore very unlikely that Gustave was onboard ship in 1888. Accepting brother John's recollection, Gustave set sail from Germany during 1889 or 1890. Gustave's proficiency with English - noted in 1897 as "excellent" - could have been gained while serving as crew aboard an Australian ship. During 1890 young Whitehead left the port of Bremen, Germany, as one of a group of emigrants headed for Brazil. The passenger lists for those leaving Bremen during this period were routinely destroyed after two years, and passenger records were also destroyed in bombings during WWII, so finding the exact date and ship on which Whitehead traveled to Brazil seems unlikely.

      Junius Harworth is one source of the Lilienthal association story. In a letter to Stella Randolph, dated July 23, 1934, Harworth wrote of remembering Whitehead's "… talks on gliding experiments with Lillienthal (sic) in Germany." On October 7, 1934, Harworth wrote to Randolph that "While indulging in these porch talks he told me that at an early age he went to Hamburg and there was 'Shanghied' (sic) on an Australian sailor (sic), had traveled the seven seas before he was sixteen [note: 1890], returned to Germany and fell in with Gus and Otto Lilienthal in flying machine and glider flights and experiments."

      In a letter dated July 10, 1936, Stella Randolph asked (Nikolaus) "Mr. Weiskopf" ("Weiskopf" with one "s") - Gustave's younger brother who lived in Germany - a series of questions. Nikolaus returned the letter with answers handwritten next to the questions.

5. Did he know the Lillienthals (sic) who built gliders [handwritten "No"] airships without motors? Did he try to make any of these when a boy? [handwritten "not known"]

6. What is known of his trips aborad (sic) sailing vessels? When did they occur? Did he go of his own free will [handwritten "yes"] or was he "shanghaied"? [handwritten "no"]

      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.

1893 to 1927 - Living in The USA

      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.

Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst 1889

      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.)

The claim that Gustave Whitehead was a student and/or assistant of Otto Lilienthal is false.

The Shipwrecks On Harding Ledge

      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.

Gustave Whitehead & Hiram Maxim

Maxim Test Rig 1894
The damaged "Maxim Test Rig" after the July 31, 1894, test

      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.

The claim that Whitehead knew Maxim personally or was present for the "Test Rig" experiments during
1894-95 is certainly false.

Sir Hiram Maxim

      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.

Scranton Tribune Jan 28, 1898

      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.)

Gustave Whitehead & Samuel P. Langley

S. P. Langley

      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.

The claim that Whitehead met Samuel P. Langley is possibly true, but unproven. Any assertion that Whitehead worked or consulted with Samuel P. Langley must include evidence, and none has appeared, thus far.

Other Speculative, Misleading & False Claims

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…

      - "… Thomas Baldwin’s 'California Arrow', flown by Roy Knabenshue. It, too, was equipped with a Whitehead motor" - FALSE - The engine was built by Glenn H. Curtiss and was a Curtiss Motorcycle engine, as Baldwin stated in sworn testimony during court proceedings.

      - "Indeed, two sources report Whitehead built aircraft motors for Curtiss, which may explain why many early Curtiss and Whitehead motors looked so similar." - FALSE - Let's examine the "sources" - one is a book titled "Visual Languages for Interactive Computing - Definitions and Formalizations" which quotes a passage filled with erroneous commentary about Gustave Whitehead and Gustav Eiffel, such as Whitehead's No. 21 dropping off its wheels at take off, so he was forced to land in a lake - absolute rubbish. The second source is titled "Steam Aircraft" - a 70 page compilation of reprinted articles from the 19th and 20th centuries. Both of these obscure sources contain serious errors.

A series of false claims are made on the Whitehead advocate's web site regarding Octave Chanute, Augustus Moore Herring, and Gustave Whitehead:

      "Herring and Chanute may have actually copied Whitehead" - FALSE - Speculative and without a shred of evidence - if evidence does exist, what and where is it ?

      - "There’s doubt about whether their [note: Chanute and Herring's] triplane glider was publicly disclosed before Whitehead’s"- FALSE - There is no "doubt" except on the part of those seeking to boost Whitehead.

      - "two years earlier, Chanute was contributing financially to Whitehead's research" - FALSE and MISLEADING - Octave Chanute sent $50 to the Boston Aeronautical Society to defray costs related to their experiments with the glider that Whitehead and Albert B.C. Horn built - the writer of the misleading statement apparently is trying to give the false impression that Octave Chanute financially supported Whitehead.

      - "Herring was present and watching when Whitehead flew his glider" - FALSE - Erroneous speculation that Augustus Moore Herring was an un-named "merchant" who was on hand to watch one of Whitehead's failed attempts at gliding… for one thing A.M. Herring was an engineer and not a "merchant."

      - "Herring & his partner, Arnot, bought engines from Whitehead for years thereafter" - FALSE - The fact is Matthias C. Arnot died of a burst appendix on July 31, 1901, soon after placing one order for an engine with Whitehead (which was not delivered). Obviously it would have been impossible for "Herring & his partner, Arnot" to place additional orders "for years thereafter" since Arnot had died.

These claims, above, and several others, are all apparently contrived to inflate Gustave Whitehead's stature in the aeronautical world of 1894-1904. Future articles will address more of these false and misleading claims.

CONCLUSION & PERSONAL COMMENTS: While Gustave Whitehead and Truth had a casual relationship, some modern-day Whitehead advocates appear to be barely acquainted with Truth.

1) Gustave Whitehead did not tell the full or complete or honest truth in his many conversations and interviews with the press, and he told Junius Harworth "tall tales" about his experiences. Gustave Whitehead also gave false answers on legal documents and in official settings.

2) Whitehead had a powerful desire to fly in a heavier-than-air machine of his own construction, to the point of utter obsession. It is not always a wise thing to suggest a psychological assessment of someone at such a distance in time, but he does appear to have been obsessed. He spent a very large quantity of other people's money, as well as his own, with little to show in the way of results. Yet, when faced with disaffected investors, he was able to find new ones. When those new investors were disaffected and disillusioned, he found yet another willing to give him money. He had a remarkable ability to rationalize this cycle of events and to keep moving ahead with his unscientific, seat-of-the-pants derivative style of design and construction of flying machines - almost all of which never "flew" in any true meaning of the word.

3) While Whitehead can be dismissed as a "dreamer," he did build things, and made engines, some of which worked and worked well. That mitigates the charge that Whitehead was simply delusional.

4) Intentionally misleading statements are common currency amongst many who are Whitehead advocates. Such people have damaged Whitehead's reputation to a far greater degree than even Gustave Whitehead managed to do.

As for me, I hold the modern-day deceivers to greater account than I do Gustave Whitehead's fabrications, outright lies and deceptions. In addition to leaving us the stuff of seemingly endless arguments, Gustave Albin Whitehead left us images of a beautiful non-flying flying machine, his No. 21. Many modern-day Whitehead advocates, on the other hand, have left nothing but a festering accumulation of invented "facts," mis-stated quotes, misleading "evidence," contrived analyses, dubious sources, and shoddy research as their legacy.

                                                                                                               — Carroll F. Gray, August 14, 2013

(See Article The 1904 Photographs - Whitehead Aloft or Merely Hanging)


Please download the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co.'s Press Release regarding Gustave Whitehead.