Donald H. Gordon Special Collection

Born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1883, at three years old Donald H. Gordon moved with his mother, father, and three brothers to the Bostonia area of Southern California. During his 20s, Gordon began studying the work of others and by 1908 he had completed his own glider. A true pioneer for the time, Gordon was able to sit in the plane and control it instead of hanging in it and shifting his weight to control direction. Gordon’s aircraft was a biplane with a controllable front elevator, not dissimilar to the plane of the Wright brothers. The wings of Gordon’s plane measured 28 feet and the length of the plane measured 18 feet.

In 1909, after the success of the glider, Gordon added a 2-cylinder Curtiss motorcycle engine to the aircraft. The plane, with the seven horsepower engine and a three wheel landing gear was light enough that Gordon could lift the entire machine himself. Though Gordon was able to get a few “hops” from his aircraft, he ultimately was unable to sustain flight. When the plane crashed, Gordon took the opportunity to obtain a 4-clynider Curtiss engine which could nearly double his horsepower. Gordon’s a new biplane (a tractor) had a conventional tail, no front elevator, a two wheel landing gear, ailerons, no dihedral, and his seat was in the rear. Using this plane, Gordon could fly all around his 40 acre field. In doing so, Donald Gordon became the first person west of the Mississippi River to successfully fly a powered aircraft.

Once WWI started, Gordon stopped working on planes and attempted to join the Air Service, but was rejected on account of his increasing deafness. After the war Gordon bought a Wright-engine, but never built a plane for it. He later donated the engine to the then named San Diego Aerospace Museum. Donald Gordon lived out the remainder of his life on 160 acres on Palomar Mountain.

Items in this collection, from 1909 to 1968, with one article from 1982, include biographies on Donald H. Gordon, correspondence, affidavits, notes, newspaper clippings, and photographs.  

For more about this collection, see our Descriptive Finding Guide.

See the collection on Flickr.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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