Press Room

Ted Reinstein and the “Feud of First Flight”

by awilliams

img_0658“Feuds are fascinating, unless they are yours,” Ted Reinstein declared to the audience filling the Central Library in Copley Square’s Abbey Room on the night of September 27. Reinstein’s new book Wicked Pissed: New England’s Most Famous Feuds is a testament to this statement, covering everything from sports to politics to literary disputes in the region.

After touching on a variety of New England feuds, including the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, Breed’s Hill vs. Bunker Hill, and a fight between British author Rudyard Kipling and his brother-in-law that drove Kipling from Vermont, Reinstein delved into the “Feud of First Flight.”

Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant, claimed to have flown a plane in August 1901 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, two years before the Wright brothers flew their plane. Whitehead later downplayed this assertion so as to not draw attention to his uncertain immigration status, and he died penniless. However, thirty years after Whitehead’s supposed flight, the story resurfaced thanks to lawyer and journalist Stella Randolph, who interviewed eye witnesses in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and wrote several subsequent articles and books about Whitehead.

In the 1980s, Reinstein explained, Connecticut asked the Smithsonian, owners of the Wright brothers’ flyer, to investigate Whitehead’s claim, but they refused; Whitehead supporters asserted that this was due to a contract between the Smithsonian and the Wright’s descendants agreeing to acknowledge no one other than the Wright brothers as having achieved first flight. In 1986, a Connecticut teacher built and flew a replica of Whitehead’s plane, garnering national attention for the Whitehead claim. A private detective also found a newspaper article from Bridgeport documenting Whitehead’s flight along with potential photographic evidence.

Reinstein said that in 2013, the aviation publication Jane’s published an opinion piece declaring Whitehead the first person to fly a plane, triggering Connecticut to pass a resolution that recognizes the state as first in flight. In response, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers, passed its own resolution rejecting Connecticut’s claim.

After relaying the story of the Feud of First Flight, Reinstein noted that his book also explores Edgar Allan Poe’s hatred of Boston.

Our next lecture, part of our Local and Family History Series, is Wednesday, September 28, at 6 p.m. in the Central Library’s Commonwealth Salon and features Stephen T. Moskey, author of Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age.