Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine
Gustave Whitehead and his Condor_0
Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine

The Ohio state legislature has introduced a resolution disparaging Connecticut’s claims to be “First in Flight,” reigniting a fight over whether the Wright brothers or Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant who lived in Fairfield, were the first to fly a powered aircraft.

Whitehead supporters say he flew his plane about 40 or 50 feet into the air in August of 1901, two years before the Wright brothers, who were from Dayton, Ohio, flew their aircraft in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

But the Ohio resolution says “scholarly research by respected and academically credentialed historians over many decades have found no evidence to substantiate the Whitehead claims.”

The resolution, sponsored by the new Ohio Speaker of the House, Republican Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, also says “a publicized digital image, purported to be an enhanced copy of a photograph that shows Gustave Whitehead’s 1901 machine in flight, reveals only indistinct shapes.”

The resolution also noted that the North Carolina General Assembly previously repudiated a similar Connecticut claim in 1985.

Whitehead supporters received a boost in 2013 when the editor of Jane’s, an aircraft publication, wrote a foreword describing how, after all this time, it was Whitehead, not the Wrights, who was first to fly. “The Wrights were right; but Whitehead was ahead,” the editor wrote.

That prompted the Connecticut general assembly to approve a resolution that year that said Whitehead was first in flight.

Ohio’s resolution is an answer to that.

But on Monday, local officials in Bridgeport and Stratford ridiculed Ohio’s claims.

“The fact that the Ohio legislature fails to recognize history is patently absurd,” said Stratford Mayor John Harkins. “They are turning their backs on science and innovation. Stratford, Fairfield and Bridgeport always have been and will remain the cradle of aviation in the United States.”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said, “It’s been proven by ‘Jane’s All the World Aircraft.’ A poor German immigrant made history in Bridgeport, Fairfield, and Stratford. We want to make sure Ohio legislators know the truth and stick to it.”

Bridgeport City Council President Tom McCarthy said, “The facts are there. We have the pictures. We have the documents.”

But there are questions about the accuracy of a story about the flight in the Aug. 18, 1901, edition of the Bridgeport Herald, which showed a drawing of “Whitehead’s flying machine soaring above the trees.”

And James Dickey, who claimed to witness Whitehead’s flight, later said the entire thing never happened.

The last paragraph of Ohio’s resolution says: “The citizens of North Carolina and Ohio invite the citizens of Connecticut to learn the truth about the invention of the airplane and the first powered flights by visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the National Aviation Heritage Area in Ohio.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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