At the moment — and this admittedly could change by the time I finish typing this sentence — the two people who are most likely to be leading the House by the end of this month are speaker-designate Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). The week has been spent with legislators trying to determine whether it is more viable to try to elect Jordan to serve as speaker — he is 0 for 2 — or to give McHenry more power to just skip the whole thing entirely.
On Friday morning, Jordan held an odd news conference ostensibly focused on making the case for his election as speaker, though that case generally focused on the idea that it would just be faster to elect him so why not do that? But he spent less time talking about that than he did on drawing an extended metaphor with the invention of flight.
And in doing so, intentionally or not, he elevated a deeper, often-silly feud between his state and McHenry’s.
Jordan began his comments by talking about a dinner invitation he and his wife had received. This invitation came from friends who lived down near Dayton and, for reasons that were left unexplained, would be preceded by a visit to the historic homes of Orville and Wilbur Wright. (This is presumably Hawthorn Hill, Orville’s post-success house, since the house where they grew up was bought by Henry Ford in the 1930s and moved to Michigan. It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this story, except by foreshadowing the extent to which everyone wants a piece of the Wright brothers’ legacy.)
“You go on this tour and you learn all these amazing things about the Wright brothers, you learn about the bicycle shop and the other things, the … gadgets and gizmos they tinkered with and built,” Jordan told reporters. “A fascinating tour.”
The search for the next House speaker
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The point? The tour concluded with a photo of the first aircraft the Wright brothers successfully flew at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. Beside it, a photo of Chuck Yeager after he broke the sound barrier in a jet, less than 50 years later. A demonstration, Jordan argued, of how quickly the United States accrued achievements — particularly when you consider that Neil Armstrong was standing on the moon less than 70 years after that first flight.
The American people “expect us to keep faith with the principles and values that made us the greatest nation ever,” Jordan said, tying all of this into his speaker bid, “made us the nation that could go from the Wright brothers to Neil Armstrong.”
Okay, fine. But as he unquestionably knows, this embrace of the Dayton-native Wright brothers by Ohio is an ongoing source of tension with North Carolina — which justifiably highlights its being the state in which the first flight occurred.
This is not an insignificant feud. North Carolina’s license plates proudly proclaim the state as “First in Flight.” Ohio’s declare the state to be the “Birthplace of Aviation” — although one iteration of the plate design made the unfortunate mistake of depicting the Wright brothers’ craft flying backward.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation took the chance to pour a little salt in the wound.
Y’all leave Ohio alone. They wouldn’t know. They weren’t there. #FirstInFlight https://t.co/bKL1TlT1Z8
— NCDOT (@NCDOT) October 21, 2021
Each state’s effort to own the Wright brothers manifests in a variety of ways. Ohio has the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, North Carolina the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Ohio has the Wright Brothers Memorial Highway; North Carolina bid out a highway project to Wright Brothers Construction. Got kids? Share North Carolina’s Wright Brothers crossword puzzle.
In 2020, with the pandemic underway, the two states called a truce. Celebrations of the first flight happened jointly between Dayton and Kitty Hawk, with a virtual link between the two. They did so again in 2021, although apparently not in 2022.
Ohio also faces threats from other parties. In 2015, the state legislature passed a resolution dismissing Connecticut’s claim to playing host to the first flight. (That state argues that an inventor named Gustave Whitehead had piloted an aircraft there two years before the flight at Kitty Hawk.) This insolence from the East Coast even prompted Ohio politicians to take an enemy-of-my-enemy approach to North Carolina.
“The citizens of North Carolina and Ohio invite the citizens of Connecticut to learn the truth about the invention of the airplane and the first powered flights,” the resolution concluded, “by visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the National Aviation Heritage Area in Ohio.”
It’s an inspiration, really; perhaps Jordan’s invocation of the Wright brothers was not a dig at McHenry but a reminder that, at times, their states had to come together to stand in the way of left-leaning usurpers.
At this point, I’ll reveal my bias. I live in Ohio and went to Ohio State. So I will argue that the actual birthplace of aviation in the United States is the Finger Lakes region of New York, home of the inventor and innovator Glenn H. Curtis.
If you disagree, feel free to be seek election as speaker of the House and hold a news conference to contradict me.