Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Gordon (Donald H.) Personal Papers
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Related Materials

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: San Diego Air and Space Museum Library and Archives
    Title: Donald H. Gordon Personal Papers
    source: Gordon, Donald H.
    Identifier/Call Number: SDASM.SC.10057
    Physical Description: 0.36 Cubic Feet One Box
    Date (inclusive): 1883-1968
    Abstract: Donald H. Gordon was an earlier aviator from San Diego. 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 and relate to his life in aviation.

    Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open to researchers by appointment.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Some copyright may be reserved. Consult with the library director for more information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Item], [Filing Unit], [Series Title], [Subgroups], [Record Group Title and Number], [Repository “San Diego Air & Space Museum Library & Archives”]

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The materials in this Collection were donated to the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

    Biographical / Historical

    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. As a child Gordon watched as his oldest brother built a framework of bamboo, stretched a sheet of paper over it, and jumped off the barn with it. While that attempt was a failure, it spurred Gordon’s interest in flight.
    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.
    Between 1912 and 1914, Gordon built a monoplane, arranged like Santos Dumont’s “Demoiselle”. It was externally braced, had a high wing, and outrigger tail and the pilot seated under the engine and wing and very close to the ground. Using a 4-cylinder water cooled engine of 40 horsepower, Gordon was able to fly successfully around a large field in Ramona, California.
    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.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection is contained in one archive box and has 7 folders. 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. Within the miscellaneous correspondence folder the way the letter was addressed is how it is written in the guide. For example, Donald H. Gordon is also listed as Don Gordon. Major George E.A. Hallett is listed as Geo E.A. Hallett, George Hallett, Major Hallett, and as George. Mr. Waldo Waterman is also listed as Waldo and E.N. Pickerill is also listed as Pickerill. The photograph folder has twelve black and white photographs with descriptions and copies, as well as a color photograph and three printed photographs of a model of an early Gordon aircraft.

    Related Materials

    Major George E.A. Hallett Special Collection Waldo Waterman Special Collection
    Related Research Institutions: National Air and Space Museum Independence Ave at 6th St, SW, Washington, DC 20560 phone: (703) 572-4045 Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. Collection, 1928-[ca. 1980s] http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?object=siris_arc_226617
    Secondary Sources: Parramore, Thomas C. First to Fly: North Carolina and the Beginnings of Aviation. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Villard, Henry Serrano. Contact! The Story of the Early Birds. New York: Crowell, 1968. Whitehouse, Arthur George Joseph. The Early Birds, the Wonders and Heroics of the First Decades of Flight. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    World War, 1914-1918
    Ford Building (San Diego)
    Gillespie Field (El Cajon, Calif. : Airport)
    Gliders (Aeronautics)
    Gordon, Donald H.
    Waterman, Waldo Dean