John Alexander Whitehead was born in England in 1876. After leaving school at the age of 16, he moved to the USA and settled in Oakland, California. In this time he met his first wife Clarissa and they had three children before the couple divorced. In 1915 Whitehead moved back to England with his three children.
In December 1915 he married his second wife Molly and they had two more children. During this time he started his business, Whitehead Aircraft Company Ltd. Originally located in Richmond, he then expanded to Feltham, where he had a contract to build and repair fighter aircraft including Sopwith Pups and Acro DH.9’s. Whitehead filed for bankruptcy in 1920, after the end of World War 1 in 1919 as the demand for fighter planes suddenly decreased.