Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Sr.

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Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Sr.

Death: July 05, 1911 (48)
Immediate Family:

Son of Captain (CSA), William Robert Gignilliat and Harriet Walker Gignilliat
Husband of Florence Teresa Gignilliat
Father of Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, II
Brother of William Leserrurier Gignilliat; Robert Deas Gignilliat; Leigh Robinson Gignilliat, Sr. and Ravenel Gignilliat

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About Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Sr.

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.

From the description of Thomas Heyward Gignilliat and Thomas Heyward Gignilliat, Jr. papers, 1890-1956. (Georgia Historical Society).

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