1856 -1939

AKA Hugh De Laussat Willoughby
Hugh Willoughby
"Hugh probably in his 70s and still flying."
from the Hugh Willoughby collection
of the Newport Historical Society
Comment by Wallace Willoughby Fullerton, 12-13-04
Via email from Wallace Willoughby Fullerton, 7-20-02
     Unfortunately I do not have any photos of Hugh, or at least none that I can say are him with any certainty. I have a reprint of a book he wrote with photos in it but, since they were taken before 1900, its likely he was the photographer and not the subject. At the same time I came across your website, I also found that there are some photos in the Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian) and I hope to visit soon to look at them -- it's about three blocks from my office in downtown Washington.
     Hugh's father, Samuel Augustus Willoughby, was born in Nova Scotia into a family that had emigrated there at the end of the French-Indian War. Samuel, an only son, came to the US as a young man and is said to been very successful in banking in Philadelphia and New York City. At some point he purchased a substantial farm in Brooklyn and is mentioned in some of Walt Whitman's writings. He married twice but both sons by the first marriage died young. Hugh was the only child of the second marriage and was born when his father was in his early 50s.
     As I mentioned, one of Hugh's sisters married Edwards Pierrepont, a prominent attorney from a prominent New England family. Pierrepont was a War Democrat (a Democrat who supported Lincoln) and became a confidant of Lincoln and Edwin Stanton. He prosecuted one of the accused assassins of Lincoln, was instrumental in cleaning up New York's Tammany Hall, became Grant's Attorney General in an effort to clean out corruption in the administration, and later became ambassador to Great Britain.
     My impression is that Hugh seems to have lived a life of a privileged, and perhaps spoiled, prep school type. He doesn't seem to have had a "real job" but participated in many sports and adventure type activities, as well as amateur scientific explorations. He is listed as the winner of the long jump in the very first collegiate championship (1876) and is also listed as a winner of several sailing regatta events. As I previous mentioned, he was a founder of the League of American Wheelman, a bicycle group started in Newport that became a driving force behind improvement of roads. He was a Lieutenant in the Rhode Island Reserves, connected to the Navy in some fashion, and provided scientific research to the Smithsonian and the University of Pennsylvania. About 1898, he undertook the first effort of a white man to cross the Everglades and the book he wrote is still available in reprint and is still used by those studying the Everglades as the only set of educated observations made prior to the rapid destruction that came only a few decades later (the book is, however, rather boring!)
     Hugh had residences in Sarasota Springs, NY, Newport, RI, and St. Augustine, FL., all known as in-places for the moneyed set of the late Victorian era. I am told by the curator of the Newport Historical Society that Hugh's photos in their collection show some of his early flights off the beach of Newport adjacent to his house (which is still there.) The photos in the Smithsonian are dated 1910 -- that means that Hugh was experimenting with these early planes in his early 50s but it seems very much in keeping with his earlier risk-taking activities.
     Hugh died 4 April 1939 and is buried in the family crypt in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. He is said to have had several children, including a Hugh Jr. (who was a ranked tennis player in 1915), and perhaps a grandson, Hugh. I haven't found any trace of these descendents yet.
     My interest in Hugh is simple: I am descended from one of Hugh's aunts who remained in Nova Scotia and I have become a little intrigued by his side of the family. I'd be happy to provide you with anything substantive I find -- no promises on the quality, of course. If the Smithsonian will permit it, I will copy the photos in their collection or, at least, take a digital photo of them.
     By the way, I also note that there has been a change in the Newport Historical Society website. A reference to Hugh's collection now can be found at (note that it is now an ".org" domain rather than a ".com").
     If you use any of the above material, "courtesy of" is just fine. What I'd really like to do is find out more and appreciate the reference mostly to generate other contacts.
Best wishes!
Wallace Willoughby Fullerton
Kensington, MD

Hugh Willoughby
Hugh Willoughby
"Identified on the side as 1909 at Ft. Myer with Hugh (back to camera) and Orville Wright. I can't positively identify either one of them but the event is correct since the plane is Wright's and the background is identical with similar photos of the event. "
from the Hugh Willoughby collection
of the Newport Historical Society
Comment by Wallace Willoughby Fullerton, 12-13-04

Hugh Willoughby
"Hugh and his Warhawk plane.
I also have one of Hugh as a young lieutenant in his Naval uniform. I don't know that he was actually in the US Navy but he was in some kind of Rhode Island reserve unit"

from the Hugh Willoughby collection
of the Newport Historical Society
Comment by Wallace Willoughby Fullerton, 12-13-04

Hugh Willoughby (1856-1939):
via email from Andrew Lindh, 10-28-04
     Newport resident Hugh Willoughby was an avid inventor, traveler, aviator, and sportsman. He built his first serious aircraft model in 1894, the same year he organized the Naval Reserve in Rhode Island (he graduated from the Naval War College in 1896). By 1900 he was a noted aerial photographer, taking pictures of cities such as Paris from balloons. By 1908 he held 14 patents for air ships and aviation devices. In 1908 he was part of Orville Wright's support team during their very first public flights at Fort Myer, Virginia. By 1909 Willoughby had a "biplane under construction" at Newport. To illustrate how respected he was among early aviators, Willoughby was director of flying at the prestigious Belmont Park, NY air meet (October, 1910). The biplane Glenn Curtiss flew at this event was equipped with Willoughby's patented double rudders; they soon became standard equipment on biplanes of the day. The names of other pilots who used Willoughby's equipment (and counted him as a colleague and friend) read like a Who's Who of aviation pioneers: the Wright Brothers, Henri Farman, Louis Paulhan, Charles Hamilton, Ruth Law, Thomas Scott Baldwin, and Roger Jannus. In 1911 he became the first person to fly a seaplane in Rhode Island--one that he designed and built himself. He later launched the Willoughby Aeroplane Company, with facilities in Newport and Sewall's Point, Florida to build and sell aircraft of his own design. He built and flew the "Swan Triplane" as he approached his 70th birthday. He was a senior official at national air meets until close to his 80th birthday.From the time he began flying at the age of 53 until the time of his death he was America's oldest licensed pilot.

via email from Nick Wantiez, 5-29-05
Dear Mr. Cooper,
      I have a little information about Hugh Willoughby which may be of interest to you. His profile, in a balloon, appeared on page 9 of the November 1908 issue of Fly Magazine. A fairly detailed article about his accomplishments, up to January 1909, is contained in the January issue of Fly on page 5 along with a good photo. Among many other facts, it states that he experimented with John Holland in submarine design, organized the Naval Reserve of Rhode Island and served as its Commander for three years. He also was temporarily attached to the line by Secretary McGee and studied with officers of the Naval War College. Mr. Willoughby was one of the founding members of the Aero Club of America and served that organization for many years. He built many motor boats including one which was the first to be fitted with a wireless apparatus
     In my judgment, Hugh Willoughby was a great man who accomplished many great things. I only wish that we had a few hundred more like him today.
Nick Wantiez

     If you search for "Hugh Willoughby +aviation", using the Google search engine, (10-27-04), you will find about 59 links. Among the most helpful are the following.
Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame honorees
     This recent (10-14-04) announcement from the U.S.S. Saratoga Museum Foundation includes the name of Hugh Willoughby among the recent honorees by the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame. It offers a very nice biography of him as well as Major General Andrew S. Low, Jr., The Allen Family of Aeronauts, (James Allen and Ezra Allen had been inducted last year), Sabatino ''Sabbie'' Ludovici and Harry M. Jones. You can visit this very interesting site by clicking on the title above.

Hugh's collection of photographs,
and a brief biography,
are mentioned on the
Photographs and Graphics Collections site
of the Newport Historical Society.
You may visit the site by clicking on:
Hugh Willoughby
You may want to use the "Find" function on "Willoughby"

Racing on the Rim

Dick Punnett
Product Details
Softbound: 106 pages; 8-1/2w x 11h
List Price: $22.95
Discount Price: $11.36
ISBN: 0965721116
     In 1997 my husband and I published a book titled Racing on the Rim, and we included Hugh de Laussat Willoughby in it. The book is a photographic history of the annual automobile racing tournaments held on the beach at Ormond-Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1903 - 1910. Hugh Willoughby brought his 11 hp Autocar during the 1904 beach tournament. There is a picture of him sitting in that car in our book on page 25. He entered several races during the meet but did not win. He was 48 years old when he appeared at the 1904 meet and had already been a pioneer in bicycling. According to our resources he learned to ride a bicycle in Paris under the tutelage of the Frenchman Michaux and returned to the U. S. with what he claimed was one of the nation's first bicycles. After that he was one of the first automobile owners and is reputed to have been a contestant in the first auto race ever held on a circular track.
     We also noted in our book that he had authored the book, Across the Everglades, illustrated with his own photographs, but that his real claim to fame was the fact that he became one of the country's earliest pioneer airplane pilots and an avid aviation booster. He was quite a man.
     The University Press of Florida has taken over the publication of the book, retitled it Beach Racers and will have it available in the bookstores in February 2008. Our book Racing on the Rim can still be purchased at the SpeedTV bookstore on sale for $11.36. The original price was $22.95. Their website is in case Hugh Willoughby's relatives are interested in purchasing the book.
Yvonne Punnett
115 Coquina Avenue
Ormond Beach, FL 32174-3303

Hugh L. Willoughby died in 1939
From The Early Birds of Aviation
Roster of Members
January 1, 1993

Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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