My grandfather, Ivan P. Wheaton, was a WWI aviator, race car driver, photographer, and contributed to many books covering the early years of Marine Corps and civilian aviation. Ivan was born in 1896 in Schenectady, New York - the son of a portrait photographer, Van B. Wheaton.

Van and Ivan shared a love for automobiles, and Ivan began racing at a pretty early age, perhaps around sixteen.  He did well in local races and began to think about racing at Indianapolis. Family history has it that Van didn't like the sound of that, due to the danger in the early years of the race.  The story goes that Van offered Ivan flying lessons, rather than going on to race at Indy.  I wonder if that sounded anywhere near as ironic then as it does now.

In any case, Ivan started flying lessons in Florida.  Being the son of a photographer, Ivan captured his career in flying, and began a series of scrapbooks which document - in photos, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, medals and memorabilia - his life as a race car driver and flyer, between about 1913 to 1920.

For the longest time, I've wondered what I should do with this collection, which is, frankly unbelievable, and unique.  My wife has wanted me to do a coffee table book, but I'm fairly sure that about a hundred aviation nuts would be interested in it as a book.  I do feel like I should keep a digital record of them for my extended family, since Ivan's history is pretty special.  I've asked friends and acquaintances involved in flying for opinions, and I think I've settled, at least in part, on blogging the life of my grandfather through his amazing scrapbooks.

I've always resisted the urge to blog, since I have so little that's very interesting to share about me.  However, now that I think about being able to blog on a unique collection, and the potential to get it into the hands of anyone who's interested, it's sounding like a fun project.

So, I'll work my way through as many scrapbook items as seem interesting to me, and try my best to do it chronologically.  I suppose I should mention that there are many hundreds of photos in five scrapbooks, from Ivan's racing career, (including over 300 from three Indy 500 races he attended) through his flight instruction in Curtiss flying boats and JN-4s, to his service in WWI with the First Expeditionary Force in Calais, France flying DH-4's.  There are dozens of letters home from France, some of which paint a stark picture of their time, and I'm sure contain some historical information that's never been published.  I'll also try and include certifications, commendations and logbook entries.


I've learned a lot about my grandfather through this collection, but I've never taken the time to go through it in this kind of depth before.  I'm looking forward to sharing this portion of my grandfather's life with you, and I hope you'll find it interesting.

- kpw


  1. Love the race car pic. I had no idea that he was into racing. The pic in the uniform appears to be taken after he lost his eye.

  2. Hey Nap!
    I've asked Karen if she knows more about his eye. He did mention in one of his letters that he had a photo taken in France that bothered him because of his eye, but he didn't mention any details about it.

    I think the parallels between his life and Eddie Rickenbacker's is fun. I have a couple of photos of EVR at Indy.

  3. You should take all this great info and quality photos about Ivan and do a publish-on-demand hard cover book! You may have enough info to do more than one book and its a great winter project. Ive "published" several of these on automotive subjects and been very pleased with the results. I used Blurb.com
    Al Isselhard
    8135 N. Huron Rd.
    Wolcott, NY 14590

  4. Al, thanks for the kind words, and the advice! While I haven't really pushed it very much, the photos are available to print direct at http://ivanpwheaton.smugmug.com/. I'll also take a look at Blurb.com. I'm really surprised at how much information can be found in these photos, and I'm thoroughly enjoying the research and the blogging. Thanks, again.