The 1906 Aero Club of America Exhibition Photograph - & - 3D Renderings

Update # 5: The Photographs - Whitehead Aloft They Are Not

© 2013 - Carroll F. Gray
Posted : July 19, 2013
LATEST UPDATE 8:06p, PDT, July 28, 2013 - new 3D renderings

1905 Montgomery glider 1906 blurry image

      John Brown, self-described "Whitehead Advocate," has gathered a great deal of attention to himself of late, claiming he has found a photo of 'Gus' Whitehead flying in his No. 21 machine. Brown's web site presents what he calls a "forensic" examination of the indistinct photo - the "Blurry Image" - it is one small part of a much larger photograph, taken by Jessie Tarbox Beals.

      The photograph above, to the left, is of John J. Montgomery's glider The California, hanging from trees at Agricultural Park, in San Jose, California, on May 21, 1905. (photo courtesy of Craig Harwood, who co-authored, with Gary Fogel, Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, University of Oklahoma Press,
ISBN-13: 978-0806142647) 1906 ACA Exhibit Hall

(The three images under consideration are shown to the left of the 1906 Aero Club of America exhibition hall, surrounded by a blue rectangle. The Blurry Image, above, is the rightmost of those three images. The actual gelatin silver print photograph is 9.5 by 7.5 inches.)

Montgomery and Whitehead groups of photos

(The Montgomery glider group is surrounded in blue, the Whitehead group is surrounded in orange.)

      Brown goes to great length, manipulating the content and orientation of the images he uses, to - in his mind - demonstrate that the Blurry Image is of Whitehead, flying.

      On June 7th, when I first saw the image that John Brown said was of Whitehead in flight, 1901, I recognized it as a Montgomery glider, so I immediately asked the Montgomery authority I know, Craig Harwood, if he'd kindly look through his collection of Montgomery glider images for a suitable candidate and after a time he selected the one above of The California, on May 21, 1905, as a very close match to the suspected Montgomery glider in the Blurry Image. Mr. Harwood estimated the Blurry Image photograph was taken from a camera position slightly to the left of the position used for the above clear photograph of The California glider. (I initially misread "21" as "27" - the date of the photograph is May 21, 1905, not May 27, 1905, as I first posted.)

      The Blurry Image is distorted, due to the distance from the camera when it was taken, the angle of the wall on which it was mounted and the fact that it is hanging forward a bit from the top, as many pictures will do when hung. Even so, it is readily apparent that the photo on the left is extremely similar to the Blurry Image on the right.

      The Blurry Image to the right, above, is the one John Brown believes shows Whitehead in flight. As seen above, it has only been cropped and enlarged from the larger photo, no changes were made in its shape, and it is shown with no attempt to remove distortions.

photo overlay       An overlay demonstrates how nearly identical the two images are. Distortion in the Blurry Image due to perspective and angles of the wall and tilt of the frame were removed to the degree possible, and the resulting image was overlaid on top of the May 21, 1905, photo.

      The overlay was sized horizontally to match the location of the two tree trunks, and when that was done, the tail of the glider and the ropes on which it was hung all came into place and matched the May 21, 1905, photo extremely well.

      It can be seen, and beyond any reasonable doubt, that the image in question is one of Montgomery's glider, suspended in the trees, at Agricultural Park that May of 1905. Indeed the match is so close between the May 21st photo and the Blurry Image that the May 21st photo might well be THE photo, were it not for the difference in the shapes of the wings.

      The search continues for an exact match.

"The Other Photo Hypothesis" - This photographic evidence indicates that it is likely that a nearly identical photo (taken at this location, from essentially the same vantage point, and most probably taken on the same day) will be an exact match to the Blurry Image on the right at the beginning of this article.

UPDATE : Nick Engler, of the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, produced the following three impressive 3D renderings of the Montgomery glider, The California, for use in this article.

      The viewpoint of each of the two color renderings is from a slightly different location, as shown. The last rendering shows the image from the "B" location, blurred to approximate the Blurry Image.

Engler 3D 01

      The first location - "A" - yields an image that matches the clear photo of The California taken May 21, 1905, as seen at the top left of this page.

Engler 3D 02

      The second location - "B" - produces an image that matches the Blurry Image, thereby proving "The Other Photo Hypothesis" is true and providing clear and compelling evidence that Mr. Brown's identification of the Blurry Image as a photo of Gustave Whitehead in flight in 1901 is false.

Engler 3D 03

      The following five points, when taken together, are evidence that goes far beyond simple coincidence, and coupled with Nick Engler's 3D renderings, makes it a certainty that the Blurry Image is a photograph of The California taken soon before or soon after the photo shown left, at the beginning of this article.

1) The two tree trunks (the one on the left and the one on the right) and several of their branches are matched.
2) Notice especially how the bends in the tree trunk on the left of the May 21st photo match, and how the angles of the tree trunks match, as well.
3) There are two light straight lines on the Blurry Image which coincide with the ropes that are holding the glider off the ground in the May 21st photo, both in location and angle.
4) The location of the light area of the foreground coincides with the May 21st photo.
5) Finally, the vertical tail of the glider is very closely matched in location and the angle of the trailing edge of the tail is virtually identical.

— This group of matching locations and angles cannot be a coincidence. —

      This identification of the Blurry Image as Montgomery glider The California on May 21st of 1905 at Agricultural Park ought to cause Mr. Brown to retract both his "forensic" examination and his conclusion as to what the Blurry Image shows. The Blurry Image does not show Gustave Whitehead in flight in 1901. Somehow, it seems doubtful Mr. Brown will be willing to admit his mistake, as he has so much invested in his "forensic" examination of the Blurry Image.

      Brown's erroneous identification caused, in good measure, the Connecticut legislature to pass and Connecticut Governor Malloy to sign a bill by State Representative Larry Miller (R-122, Stratford) that declared Gustave Whitehead as the first person to fly in a heavier-than-air powered machine.

      When his misconceived bill passed, State Rep. Miller told the Associated Press "We want to correct something that should have been corrected long ago," "All we're trying to do is correct history. There's nothing in it for us."

      Perhaps now that it has been demonstrated that the much-heralded photograph Mr. Brown decided was of Gustave Whitehead is actually of the Montgomery glider The California, State Rep. Miller will want to "correct something" once again. and repeal the bill that embodies the erroneous history prompted by Mr. Brown's mistake.

      Brown had plenty of warning this identification was coming, I told him in an e-mail on June 7, 2013, that the Blurry Image was probably that of a Montgomery glider.

      Brown replied with the following...

"If the photograph showed Prof. J.J. Montgommery's (sic) aircraft, why then would it be displayed in the Whitehead section at an aeronautical exhibition?"

      The answer, of course, is that it was not in some imagined "Whitehead section," it was adjacent to the Whitehead grouping of images.

      As for John Brown asking why a photo of a glider would be displayed "at an aeronautical exhibition" - why wouldn't it be ? It was an aeronautical exhibition.

       UPDATE : On his web site, John Brown identifies an image at the January 1906 Aero Club of America exhibition as being from the US Patent (# 881,837) jointly held by Gustave Whitehead and Stanley Y. Beach.
Whitehead Patent Fig. 1
      There are a couple things wrong with Brown's identification. The patent application was filed on December 20, 1905, just prior to the January 1906 Aero Club of America's exhibition, so the patent drawings were available, however it could not have been the page John Brown puts forward as being the leftmost image, since that page would not have been available until March 10, 1908, when the patent was issued.

      The second and most important error Brown makes is to claim these three photos were part of a larger grouping of Whitehead images — he is wrong. Two of the three photographs identified so far in this section were of John J. Montgomery gliders - having nothing whatsoever to do with Gustave Whitehead.

Montgomery group
      IDENTIFIED : The leftmost of the three photographs which Brown says the Whitehead patent drawing, above, is actually a photograph of Montgomery's glider, The Santa Clara, with Daniel Maloney aboard, suspended below Frank Hamilton's "smokie" balloon in 1905.

      The left edge of the large 1906 photograph depicting the exhibit hall (of which this is a very small part) is as shown here. Only the right half of the hot air smoke balloon with the Montgomery glider suspended below, can be seen - that is where the photographic print ends.

      The white horizontal areas beneath each of the three images are most probably labels, with text explaining what is shown in each image.

      Given that two of these three associated photographs at the 1906 exhibition are of Montgomery gliders, it is likely that the center photograph will be identified as being a Montgomery glider, as well.

letter Post to Montgomery NY Times JJM mention       It's known that A.C.A. Secretary Augustus Post, who was organizing the January 1906 A.C.A. exhibition, wrote to John J. Montgomery requesting photographs to be exhibited at the event and news coverage of the exhibition (NYT 15 Jan 1906, p.6) mentions that photographs of Montgomery's gliders were on display.

      It seems a good likelihood that the group of three Montgomery glider photos at the A.C.A. event were all of the May 21, 1905, demonstration of the Montgomery glider at Agricultural Park in San Jose, California. The glider which flew that day was The Santa Clara, while The California, a near duplicate of The Santa Clara, was displayed, hung between tree trunks. A sign was hung from the front of the The California, giving information about the Montgomery machines.
(Newspaper clipping, January 21, 1906, courtesy of Sheila Conway, Archives & Special Collections, University Library, Santa Clara University, by way of Craig Harwood)

      UPDATES will be posted as more information warrants or more identifications are made.

      Thank you's are due to Craig Harwood (Quest for Flight) for his generous help, and to Simine Short (Locomotive to Aeromotive - Octave Chanute and the Transportation Revolution) for her insightful thoughts, suggestions and assistance, and to Jonathan Fallon (WWI AERO Journal of The Early Aeroplane) for his comments, suggestions and help, and to Nick Engler (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company) for doing yet another brilliant thing, as well as to Rich Davidson (NORDO News) for helping to get the word out.