Arthur Welsh (1881-1912)

America’s First Jewish Aviator
Born in Russia, Laibel Wellcher immigrated with his family to Philadelphia and moved to Washington as a teen. His mother ran a grocery store in their home at 900 G Street, SW. When he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1901, Wellcher changed his name to Arthur Welsh. His marriage to Anna Harmel in 1907 was the first wedding in Adas Israel’s new synagogue at 6th and I Streets, NW.

After watching Orville Wright’s flight demonstrations at Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1909, Welsh joined the Wright brothers’ first training class. A skilled pilot, Welsh trained many of America’s first aviators.

In 1912, Welsh was killed in a crash at the College Park airfield during a test flight on a new military plane. He was buried in the Adas Israel cemetery in southeast Washington.

Welsh taught me all he knew. Or rather, he taught me all he could teach. He knew much more.”

General Henry H. Arnold, 1949

All present were in tears including Mr. Orville Wright and his sister who were doing all they could to console the mother and wife of the deceased.

Yiddish newspaper Forward, June 1912

Photo of Welsh in Wright B

Welsh in Wright B

Courtesy of College Park Aviation Museum, Jesse Ayer Collection.

crash into field of daisies

1912: The Wright brothers sent Welsh to College Park, Maryland, to test a new military plane—the Wright C. On June 11, accompanied by Lieutenant Leighton Hazelhurst, Welsh flew a final test. Carrying a heavy load, the plane climbed just 200 feet before crashing into a field of daisies. Both men were killed instantly.

Courtesy of College Park Aviation Museum, Jesse Ayer Collection.

getting ready for the two-hour test

1912: Welsh (with his back to the camera) checking on the engine of the Wright C flyer prior to a successful test flight. Lieutenant Leighton Hazelhurst is seated in the plane, and Lieutenant Henry H. (Hap) Arnold (to Welsh’s left) holds the strut of the plane. Arnold went on to become the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces during World War II.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Margaret Smiler Winberg. 1994.61

Photo of Welsh in Wright B
crash into field of daisies
getting ready for the two-hour test