Theodore Gordon Ellyson

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Commander Theodore Gordon Ellyson (27 February, 1885 – 27 February, 1928) served in the United States Navy. He became the first American naval aviator in the spring of 1911.

Life & Career

Theodore Gordon Ellyson was born in Virginia on 27 February, 1885. Ellyson was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from his home state and admitted on 7 September, 1901.[1]

Ellyson was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 16 September, 1910.[2] With the new year came a remarkable new assignment: Washington I. Chambers, the officer placed in charge of aviation matters, chose Ellyson to take up Glenn Curtiss's offer of flight training a single naval officer free of charge.[3]

Chambers wrote to Ellyson:

You were selected because you were not regarded as a crank, but as a well-balanced man who would be able to assist in building up a system of aviation training in the Navy. I've no doubt you see the importance of avoiding the hippodrome part of the business and will not do stunts just for the sake of notoriety or to thrill the crowd.[4]

By the end of March 1911, Ellyson's training had been completed successfully, and Curtiss wrote to Secretary of the Navy Meyer that:

I have the honor to report that Lieutenant Ellyson is now competent to care for and operate Curtiss airplanes and instruct others in the operation of these machines. Mr. Ellyson is a hard worker and has acquired considerable knowledge of the art of aviation. He has been especially successful in operating the machine and is easily capable of qualifying for a pilot's license. It is a pleasure for me to recommend Mr. Ellyson as a man who will make a success in aviation.[5]

In 1920, Ellyson was given command of the destroyer Brooks, but was relieved of command in December after an incident where he refused to comply with a German naval officer's demand his ship leave Kiel harbor. According to Ellyson's later statement, the German officers threatened to attack his ship if he refused to comply, since a state of war still technically existed between the United States and Germany. Ellyson refused and the Germans took no further action, but he was subsequently transferred home after he reported the incident to Admiral Charles F. Hughes. Ellyson returned home aboard the Army transport Cantigny.[6][7]

Ellyson was promoted to the rank of Commander on 3 June, 1921, and was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics on 20 October, 1921.[8]

Ellyson was assigned to duty in connection with the fitting out of the new aircraft carrier Lexington on 1 October, 1926, and remained aboard when she commissioned.[9][10]

Ellyson was killed on the night of his forty-third birthday, 27 February, 1928, when the Loening OL-7 he was flying crashed in the Chesapeake Bay while on a flight from Norfolk to Annapolis.

See Also


  • Sudsbury, Elretta (1967). Jackrabbits to Jets: The History of North Island, San Diego, California. San Diego: Hall & Ojena Publications.


Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of U.S.S. J. Fred Talbott
30 Jun, 1919
Succeeded by
Francis D. Pryor
Preceded by
George B. Ashe
Captain of U.S.S. McCalla
late 1919[11]
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Donald MacL. Dalton
Captain of U.S.S. Brooks
10 Jul, 1920 – 21 Nov, 1920[12]
Succeeded by
Victor S. Houston


  1. Register of Officers, 1904. p. 99.
  2. Register of Officers, 1911. pp. 38-39.
  3. Jackrabbits to Jets. pp. 9-10.
  4. Quoted in Jackrabbits to Jets. p. 17.
  5. Quoted in Jackrabbits to Jets. p. 20.
  6. "Denies He Threatened Germans". Army and Navy Register. 3 January, 1921. Vol. LXIX, No. 2,112, p. 29.
  7. "Refused to Leave Kiel When Ordered By Germans". The Herald Democrat (Leadville, Colorado). Tuesday, 4 January, 1921. col. 1-2, p. 3.
  8. Register of Officers, 1922. pp. 22-23.
  9. Register of Officers, 1927. p. 22.
  10. Register of Officers, 1928. p. 20.
  11. Register of Officers, 1920. pp. 22-23.
  12. Register of Officers, 1921. pp. 22-23.