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I believe that this longer biography was written by William O'Dwyer for the Gustave Weisskopf Museum in Leutershausen, Germany. If you don't want to read it online, but print it off as a document, you can download it in Word 5.0 format here. DOWNLOAD BIOGRAPHY DOCUMENT


Gustave Weisskopf, son of Carl Weisskopf, a carpenter, was born on January 1, 1874 in Leutershausen. He spent a part of his early youth and school years in Hochst on the Main River. At the age of 13 he became an orphan and was brought up by his grandparents in Ansbach. At the end of a short period of teaching, he left his home(land). In 1888, in Hamburg, he was shanghaied" (forcefully hired) by the crew of an Australian sail ship. It is said, that during this first part of his life, he showed a great interest in flying.

In the year, 1889, Weisskopf again returned to Germany, and joined a family that emigrated to Brazil. From there he made many sea voyages for several years, and there are only sparse clues as to his whereabouts. While on board many kinds of ships, he became familiar with wind and weather. The observation-of sea birds made a permanent impression upon him. Years later he made a note of a newspaper article, in which the question was asked, why should it be denied to creative man, not to be able to master "the ocean of air" after the oceans of the world. Toward the end of his year of wondering, Weisskopf had to return to Germany, in order to seek out the Lilienthal brothers. Otto Lilienthal had just published his book, "Bird Flight As Basis of Flying". His brother,Gustav, had returned from a five year stay in Australia.

There, in the port city, Sydney, Lawrence Hargrave had publicly exhibited his first flying model. In 1894, in the USA, the first glider flight with a registered instrument took place, and the first American aviation club was founded. In England, Mr. Phillips had his vaulted wing profile patented, and from France came the news about M. Ader and his steam airplane. In these years of passing from theoretical assertions to practical applications of human flight, Weisskopf decided to remain forever in the United States of America. To this talented man, the USA had to offer the most favourable conditions, to put into effect his ideas about flying.

In 1895, we find Weisskopf as an immigrant in Boston. While people in his homeland ridiculed Lilienthal, balloon flights were in style as a gentlemen's sport. For the just founded Boston Aeronautical Society, Weisskopf built a percusion wing plane (imitation of a bird's flight) and a glider in Lilienthal's style. Only the latter was capable of flying. Already, in 1897, news of "the personal, artificial flight" of Gustav Weisskopf reached Germany by way of newspaper reports. The manufacturer, Horsman, in New York, hired Weisskopf as a specialist for hang gliders, aircraft models and motors for flying craft. At this time, Weisskopf occupied himself with the thought of providing a motor to drive one of his gliders.

At the end of 1897, Weisskopf married the German- Hungarian, Louisa Tuba, in Buffalo, New York. At the time of his marriage, he listed his occupation as "Aeronaut". In the public library of the city of Buffalo, he found professional literature about the current developments of air craft flight developments. With this, there began a period of his life whereby the study of relevant literature broadened and furthered his practical experiments.

Now there followed a troubled time for the young family. Weisskopf tried to bring into accord his enthusiasm for flying with his responsibility towards his wife and child, after his first child was born in 1898, in Baltimore. In the next year, we find the family in Pittsburgh. There, Weisskopf found work in a coal mine. He could not support himself from financial help and had to earn his living expenses.

In spite of all obstacles, he constructed and built, in Pittsburgh, an aircraft with a steam engine as drive. During the trials, the take off was successful with a "boilerman", whether desired or not, as a passenger and a flight in remarkable height. The distance traversed by this flight is not known. Altitude and distance were sufficient, in any case, to come to a crash landing on a roof, into the forth floor of a house in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Weisskopf remained uninjured, his "boiler man" suffered scalding from the released steam. This steam, machine constructed by Weisskopf was so ingenious, that several years later, L. Hargrave used miniature designs of steam machines "Weisskopf Style" as well as "Weisskopf System" for his model trials in Australia.

In the industrial city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the United States, Weisskopf found employment in 1900 as a mechanic. On account -of his dangerous experiments, the police had chased him out of Pittsburgh. At his new dwelling, he had space for a small workshop, and neighbours, as well as police, must have had more understanding for him. The periodical, "Scientific American", reported in June, 1901, of Weisskopf's new rebuilt hang glider (a term used at this time for motor aircraft). Two months later, with the hang glider, "No. 21", Weisskopf completed a flying distance of about 2.5 Km in about 10-15 meters altitude. In so doing, he had proof that it was possible to start a flight without artificial aids from land and with two motor driven propellers, and to land without damage. Weisskopf had recognized, just as today, that a successful takeoff requires a definite minimum speed. On the other hand, other aviation pioneers were using catapults for takeoffs.


News of Weisskopf's flight spread quickly in the United States of America and Europe. Mr. Moedebeck from Germany, asked his friend, Octave Chanute, unbelievingly about this. Both experts had already waited a long time for an announcement of this sort. They found it hard to believe, that a plain factory worker alone could accomplish this.

At the end of September, 1901, Weisskopf exhibited his successful "No. 21." in Atlantic City. In the certainty that he was on the right track, Weisskopf concentrated a lot of energy towards the improvement of his motors. If he had been business orientated, he could have lived from the manufacture and sale of aircraft motors. Unfortunately, he did not have even sense for the most simple price settings. He received orders for motors, as well as offers from wealthy businessmen to let them put his inventions to good use. With many orders, he paid extra, without even an awareness. He lacked the necessary means to pay for the patent protection of his inventions. His workshop was open, not only to well-meaning visitors, but to everyone.
Just before the end of the year l901, Weisskopf accomplished the first water landing by a motorized airplane. In the meantime, he had constructed and completed the first diesel motor for aircraft. He installed this diesel motor in his "No. 22" and on January 17, 1902, made a circular flight of about ll kilometre length and a height of about 60 meters. Again there were press reports in the United States, in France and in Germany. For the first time, Weisskopf's accomplishment appeared in a German book as a speed record (1903). In October, l904, Professor John J. Dvorak, Professor of Physics at the University of Washington in St. Louis, announced publicly, that Weisskopf was more advanced with the development of aircraft than other persons who were engaged in the work.

One of his financial backers applied with him, in 1905, for a patent on a glider. In 1908,. Ch. Wittemann, an American aircraft manufacturer, purchased a Weisskopf motor. In the following year, Weisskopf’s motors were exhibited, offered in catalogues and installed in the aircraft of other manufacturers of aircraft. How many of his ingenious constructions, under the name of his benefactor, brought financial gain cannot be ascertained. In this time, Weisskopf experienced that other aviation pioneers were reaping the fame, which he did not strive for, but which he deserved.

In 1911, people heard again of Weisskopf as he experimented with his own helicopter project. No one was interested in the construction of the helicopter with limited success. There appeared a customer, who was also doing work on his own helicopter project, who was only interested in one of his motors. Weisskopf accepted the order, but could not, as often before, have the motor done within the time limits of the customer. It could not be avoided, that Weisskopf would someday get into trouble because of his poor business skills. He had not figured on being sued. Completely inexperienced, he lost the suit. His compete workshop, including construction documents and finished parts were impounded. And so was removed from Weisskopf the economic basis for any further activity as an aviation pioneer.

In poor health and blinded for years in one eye from an accident at work, Weisskopf could not recover from this fatal blow. He had never achieved American citizenship and was exposed to suspicion as a “Hyphenated-American” for whom President Theodore Roosevelt sympathized. In no case did Weisskopf belong to the “romantic statistics” which a British historian believed to see in the German immigration to America.

He experienced, with great feeling, Lindberg’s triumphant Atlantic crossing by plane. On October 10, 1927, Gustav Weisskopf, in the age of 53, died of a heart attack. To his family he left the self built home and eight (8) dollars in cash. He was buried in a pauper's grave.

The American, Stella Randolph, published in 1937, a first book about Gustav Weisskopf and with it, accorded to him, a permanent memorial in, the United States of America. William J. O'Dwyer, a reserve officer of the U.S. Airforce, discovered in 1963, unknown photos of Weisskopf's airplanes. Since then, he has dedicated himself to research on Weisskopf. In 1964, Weisskopf was post humously honoured by the State of Connecticut, his chosen home. His grave received a worthy grave stone. A second book appeared in 1966 about Gustav Weisskopf by Stella Randolph. It contained new research and reports to her first book. Finally, in 1978, a comprehensive portrait was published about the background of the controversy about Weisskopf's honour as aviation pioneer, by Stella Randolph and William J. O'Dwyer has the title, "History by Contract The Beginning of Motorized Aviation'' Aug, 14 1901, Gustav Whitehead, Fairfield, Conn., and appeared in the publishing house of Fritz Majer & Son, 8801 Leutershausen.
The present status of air flight development is not only to be traced back to a few glorified initial achievements. Many lesser known aviation pioneers have a right to recognition, without national reservation, for their share of participation in one of the universal achievements of mankind. This it great measure applies to Gustav Weisskopf
His birth city, Leutershausen holds his name and memory in honour. In the spring of 1980, there was created, with the opening of a museum, the basis of a collection, which establishes the proof of the accomplishments of Gustav Weisskopf as a pioneer of motorized flight.