Naval Historical Center
805 Kidder Breese Street SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060
Theodore Gordon Ellyson, the first Navy officer to qualify as an airplane pilot, was born on 27 February 1885 in Richmond, Virginia.
He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1901, graduating with the class of 1905. During the five years following his graduation, he served on USS Texas, Missouri; as Watch and Division Officer of USS Pennsylvania and later Colorado; and on USS West Virginia, Rainbow, and Shark on the Asiatic Station. After his return to the United States in April 1910, he commanded USS Tarantula until November of that year, and then had duty in connection with fitting out USS Seal at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. He commanded her briefly after her commissioning on 2 December 1910.
In December 1910, Ellyson was ordered to Los Angeles, California for instruction in aviation under Glenn Curtiss. While there, he cooperated with Curtiss in the design of a pontoon for aircraft and became the first passenger to go aloft in a floatplane when he made a flight in February 1911, with Curtiss at the controls. Later that month, he participated in experiments demonstrating the potential use of floatplanes from ships, when the aircraft was hoisted onboard USS Pennsylvania and subsequently lowered to the water for its return flight to North Island.
From the time Ellyson began instruction in aviation until 29 April 1913, he devoted all of his time to active flying and experimental work in aviation. This included the establishment of Naval Aviation Camps at Annapolis in September 1911 when, with then-Lieutenant John H. Towers, he flew an aircraft from Annapolis to Milford Haven, Virginia, a non-stop distance record for float planes.
In 1917 he had duty at the Naval Academy and with the Midshipmen on cruise on USS Wyoming and Kansas. On 14 February 1918, he was detached for duty at the Submarine Chaser Base, new London, Connecticut and in June arrived in London, England for duty with a submarine chaser squadron at U.S. Naval Base 27 at Plymouth, England.
Following the Armistice in 1918, he remained in the European Area, commanding Nucleus Crew 14 (zeppelin) from March to May 1919. Upon his arrival in the United States, he assisted in fitting out USS J. Fred Talbot at William Cramp and Sons, and served on that destroyer from her commissioning in June 1919 until July 1920. During the next five months he commanded USS Little and Brooks.
On 10 January 1921 he was ordered to Hampton Roads, Virginia to serve for eight months as Executive Officer of the Naval Air Station, Naval Operating Base. The Bureau of Aeronautics was established in the Navy Department on 1 September 1921, and on 21 October Commander Ellyson became Head of the Plans Division of that Bureau. He remained in that assignment until December 1922, when he became Aviation Member of the U.S. Naval Mission to Brazil, cooperating in the reorganization of the Brazilian Navy. He returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics in May 1925.
On 20 July 1925 he assumed command of Torpedo Squadron 1 and from March to June 1926 was Executive Officer of USS Wright, a seaplane tender. On 23 June 1926 he was ordered to duty in connection with the fitting out of USS Lexington, the Navy's second aircraft carrier, and was on board when she was placed in commission.
Commander Ellyson was killed on 27 February 1928, his 43rd birthday, in the crash of an aircraft in the lower Chesapeake Bay while on a night flight from Norfolk, Virginia to Annapolis, Maryland.
Scope and Content Note
The collection consists of letters written by Commander Ellyson to his family. The letters found in this collection begin in the final months of World War I, and continue through March 1919. A smaller group of letters dated 1928 is also present. The letters of 1918 discuss Germany’s possible surrender and the armistice, and compare Germany’s collapse to that of Russia and Austria. Many of the letters convey his daily affairs to his wife and ask about the situation at home.
Papers of Theodore G. Ellyson, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
Subject Headings (LCSH)
World War, 1914-1918--Armistices.
World War, 1914-1918--Correspondence.
Air pilots, Military--United States--Correspondence.
United States. Navy--Officers--Correspondence.
0.25 cubic feet