Objects of the Month

May 2012: Photograph of Arthur Welsh, c. 1910

Photograph of Arthur Welsh, c. 1910
  • Object No.: C1-21
  • Description:

    Photograph of Arthur Welsh, at the controls of a Wright brothers airplane, and smoking cigar, 1909-1912.

Born in Russia in 1881, Laibel Willcher immigrated with his family to Philadelphia and moved to Washington as a teen. His family lived above the grocery store his mother ran at 900 G Street, SW. When he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1901, Willcher 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.

Welsh checking on the engine of the Wright C flyer prior to a successful test flight, June 3, 1912. Welsh's back is to the camera; Lieutenant Leighton Hazelhurst is seated in the plane, and Lieutenant Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, far left, holds the strut of the plane.

JHSGW Collection. 

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. One of his students was Henry "Hap" Arnold, who went on to become the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces during World War II. Arnold later remembered, "Welsh taught me all he knew. Or rather, he taught me all he could teach. He knew much more."

In 1912, Welsh was tragically killed in a crash at the College Park Airfield during a test flight of a new military plane designed by the Wright brothers. He was buried in the Adas Israel cemetery in southeast Washington. The Yiddish newspaper Forward reported, "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."

Commemorate Welsh's centennial and legacy with a special medal commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society. This limited edition, 2¼" medal is available in several finishes including Bronze ($50), Silver-plated ($75), and Gold-plated ($100) from our online shop.