John Alexander Whitehead
Founder of Whitehead Aircraft Company and Ltd.
As the great granddaughter of John Alexander Whitehead, I am led to share the history of this brilliant man and the empire that he was determined to build.
Learn about his journey to success during WWI and then the subsequent enterprises that he embarked on when the end of the war brought about the end of Whitehead Aircraft, Ltd.
A Brief History
John Alexander Whitehead was born in England in 1876. Leaving school at the age of 16, he worked his passage to the USA. He became a US citizen and settled in Oakland, California and married Clarissa, a professional pianist. Together they had three children, Rodney, Keith and Helene. The marriage ended in divorce and Whitehead returned to England in 1915, along with the three children.
A second marriage to Molly in December 1915 produced two more children, daughters Jean and Pat.
It was at this time that Whitehead started his business, Whitehead Aircraft Company (Ltd.), located in Richmond and Feltham, England, manufacturing fighter aircraft. This enterprise lasted from 1915-1919. After bankruptcy, Whitehead embarked on several other enterprises that are mentioned on the other enterprises page.
After a series of failed businesses, Whitehead's father bailed him out and offered to settle the debt that he owed. He also advised that Whitehead should emigrate, not start another business and not borrow any more money. Taking this advice, Whitehead, his wife and their two youngest children, Jean and Pat, went to live in Vancouver, Canada. The three eldest children decided to take their own paths with Helene staying in England, Keith emigrated to Australia, and was shortly followed by Rodney, who was just 14 years old at the time.
During the time in Canada, Whitehead was apparently involved in a project tunneling through the Rockies.
It was not too long before Whitehead became dissatisfied and returned to England in 1929. It was then that Whitehead started planning the apple orchards that he owned at Cockayne Hatley Estate; Whitehead's most successful venture that lasted from 1929-1946. Whitehead had been inspired to start his own apple orchards after seeing huge amounts of apples being exported to England from the US and Canada while he lived in those places.
During the time of the apple orchards, it appears that he re-married, Alice, who was left the total of £546 upon Whitehead's death in June 1949 at Waverly Abbey, after a long illness.