Way Back When... 1901
Two years before the Wright Brothers made their historic flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., a local man took flight right here in the Fairfield beach area. On Aug. 14, 1901, Gustave Whitehead took off in a plane on Turney’s Farm in his No. 21 Flyer. This weekend marks the 117th anniversary of what many now agree was the first manned, sustained, powered flight.
On Saturday, Aug. 11, the Fairfield Museum will commemorate this event by hosting a free “Fly In” with a replica of Whitehead’s plane built by Andy Kosch on display and aerial demonstrations of aircraft and drones by HobbyTown USA of Fairfield. Visitors can learn about Whitehead’s historic flight experiments and meet the Fairfield Flying Aces. Children can assemble and fly their own balsa wood plane.
Whitehead was born in Leutershausen, Germany in 1874. He came to America in the 1890s, settling in Bridgeport in 1900 and later in Fairfield. He is listed in city directories as a mechanic, and his tinkering is believed to have led to the development of a powered aircraft.
In 2013 Jane’s All About Airplanes stating that Whitehead should be credited with having flown in Fairfield and Stratford in 1901. That announcement put an authoritative stamp on an achievement that had previously lacked recognition by most aviation historians. Following Jane’s recognition, Governor Malloy signed into law on June 25th House Bill 6671, which included among its provisions recognition of Gustave Whitehead as the first man to achieve successful powered flight. Per the text of the bill, in Connecticut “Powered Flight Day” will now be celebrated to honor Gustave Whitehead rather than the Wright Brothers.
The Fairfield Museum’s library contains many books regarding Gustave Whitehead as well as the William O’Dwyer Gustave Whitehead Research Collection, which contains photographs, newspaper articles, and correspondence about Whitehead’s flights. The library, open Tuesday through Friday, 10am-4pm and Saturday 12-4pm (by appointment) also has witness accounts and news articles, or you can visit https://www.fairfieldhistory.org/library-collections/gustave-whitehead/.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.
The year Gustave Whitehead took off in a plane at Turney’s Farm in what many now agree was the first manned, sustained, powered flight.