Thomas Heyward Gignilliat and Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr. papers
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Thomas Heyward Gignilliat and Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr. papers

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Gignilliat, Thomas Heyward, 1863-1911.
Creator: Gignilliat, Thomas Heyward, 1897-1988.
Title: Thomas Heyward Gignilliat and Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr. papers
Dates: 1890-1956
Extent: 1.5 cubic feet (2 boxes, 1 oversized box)
Identification: MS 1124

Biographical/Historical Note

Thomas Heyward Gignilliat (1863-1911) was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of William Robert and Harriet W. Heyward Gignilliat. He received his early education in Savannah schools and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in the Spanish-American War. Shortly afterward he was appointed to the U.S. Corps of Engineers and worked on Coastal fortifications. He became interest in the idea of mechanical flight and his observations of seagulls in flight and mathematical investigations led him to the idea of developing a flying machine. In the fall of 1890 he began experiments in Hartford, Connecticut, to develop such a machine. This was one year before Professor Samuel P. Langley's "Experiments in Aerodynamics" (Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, XXVII, 1891) was published, which is the basis for the claim that he was the first to announce the correct mathematical principles governing aerial navigation.

Gignilliat returned to Savannah and established the American Aeronautic Machine Company in 1892, which was the first company ever chartered for the commercial manufacture and sale of airplanes. Unfortunately, his experiments from 1890 until 1893 never produced a machine that would fly. In 1895, Gignilliat proposed an agreement with the Venezuelan government for their financing a continuation of his flying machine experiments to develop a successful machine for the military uses of the Venezuelan government, citing Great Britain's' current encroachment on Venezuelan territory.

Gignilliat taught in Savannah public schools and was the principal of Barnard Street School for many years. During the summer, he was an instructor of the Summer Naval School at Culver Academy in Culver, Indiana. He was also a commander of the 3rd Division Naval Battalion of the Georgia State Troops.

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists primarily of papers concerning Thomas Heyward Gignilliat's flying machine. A stockholder's meeting minute book, along with blueprints, drawings, and photographs for his flying machine, comprise the majority of papers on his American Aeronautic Machine Company. The collection also contains a scrapbook, letters, plans, and other papers concerning Gignilliat's proposal to make airplanes for Venezuela's government and military use. Maps, both created and used by Gignilliat as persuasive instruments in his Venezuela deal, are in this collection. In addition, Gignilliat's plans for the City Hall in Savannah are included, as well as a few articles written by Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr., on his father's company and flying machine.

The papers were arranged by T.H. Gignilliat, Jr. before he gifted them to the Georgia Historical Society. They are separated into three groups: "AM" for papers pertaining to the aeronautic machine; "Ven." for the Venezuela incident; and miscellaneous. They remain in this arrangement.

Box 3 contains oversize materials, primarily maps, from the original three groups.

Index Terms

American Aeronautic Machine Company.
Assembly drawings.
Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Gignilliat, Thomas Heyward, 1863-1911.
Gignilliat, Thomas Heyward, 1897-1988.
Letters (correspondence)
Maps (documents)
Minute books.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Material was acquired from one of the creators.

Preferred Citation

[item identification], Thomas Heyward Gignilliat and Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr. papers, MS 1124, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr., 1976.


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Georgia Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Division of Library and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Georgia Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.


Encoding funded by a 2012 Documenting Democracy grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Container List





111AM 1. minute book of the American Aeronautic Machine Company, 1892
Contains minutes of the first meeting of stockholders with list of their names, April 21, 1892; Constitution, election of first board of directors; minutes of first directors' meeting; subsequent meetings in 1903; stockholders and directors meetings, 1901.
22AM 2. American Aeronautic Machine Company, 1892-1893
Records of stockholders and subscriptions.
33-14AM 3. 12 drawings of details of airplane and helicopter on U.S. Patent Office forms, undated 10 are signed by T.H. Gignilliat
Photographs of 4 of them are also included.
415-18AM 4. Aeronautical Machine, miscellaneous. "A copy of the Vicker's article from the N.Y. Times," regarding T.H. Gignilliat and his invention; 2 photographs: T.H. Gignilliat, Sr. and Jr., Mrs. Gignilliat and an unidentified man in front of a triplane; an unidentified man with the triplane; enclosing envelope labeled "Personal History with special Flying Machine references written by request"
519-28AM 5. 5 blueprints of four of the drawings on U.S. Patent Office forms; 4 pencil sketches of the triplane built at Tybee Island and a portion of the chute-de-chute from which it was launched and detail of wheel and rollers;photograph of detail of the wheel structure on which the plane ran down the chute
629AM 6. "Aeronautic Machines - prints of Patent Office Drawings, 1890." Blue prints stapled together
730-32AM 7-AM 9. "The American Aeronautic Machine Company," by T.H. Gignilliat, Jr., The Aeronautical Annual, "'Henri' and Flying Machines," by T.H. Gignilliat, Sr., 1956. 1896
833-52AM 10-Am 18 (minus AM 14), 1892-1957
Photograph of Frank Gignilliat seated in a helicopter. Photographs of details of a helicopter. Envelope labeled "Flying Machines, Centrifugal Drums, Sept. 18, 1899 and later." Notes and drawings. Savannah Morning News, March 27, 1956, with article re T.H. Gignilliat, Jr.'s talk on the American Aeronautic machine Company. Certified copy of the Charter of the American Aeronautic Machine Company, 1892. Extract from Reader's Digest, May 1957, with article on the Santos-Dumont airplane, 1898.




2154Ven. 1. T.H. Gignilliat, Sr. scrapbook
Contains material re his flying machine interests, the Venezuela incident, personal, and the Summer Naval School at Culver Academy.
1055-56Ven. 2. Envelope marked "Original 'Extraordinary' papers...", 1895
Contents: 2 letters to Señor José Andrade, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotiate at the Venezuelan Legation in Washington re his proposal to make airplanes for the Venezuelan government for military use, one enclosing the proposed agreement for the work.
11Miscellaneous ( 9.0 items. )
Competitive design for the New City Hall for Savannah, submitted by J.L. Smithmeyer of Washington, D.C. (architect for the Library of Congress), T.H. Gignilliat and D. Glenn Smith of Savannah: 1 pencil sketch, 1 mounted and 1 unmounted rendering. Description of competitive plans for City Hall, Savannah, submitted by above, May 11, 1903. Isolated Coaling Docks and Their Defense, by T.H. Gignilliat (Washington: 1900), 3 p. Photographs of the plane built by Capt. Matthew Batson on Dutch (Liberty) Island, and one of its hangar and crew (ca. 1913) from N.H. Barnett.



American Aeronautic Machine Company, 1.0 items.
Ven. 3. Venezuela Maps, 1890-1896, 3.0 items.
One is in Spanish (1890); the others are a linen map and blueprint of it (1896) showing British encroachment.
Ven. 4. Map of Venezuela, drawn by T.H. Gignilliat, 1896, 1.0 items.
A printed map showing advance of British claims (19 copies).
Ven. 5-7. 3 maps, one showing English aggression in North, Central, and South America; the others are of Venezuela, one of which (printed) was drawn by T.H. Gignilliat, (the only known copy of this map), 1895, 3.0 items.