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EDITORIAL

Declaring Wright Brothers Not First Doesn't Really Fly

General Assembly Tries Its Hand At Remaking Aviation History

6:08 PM EDT, June 7, 2013

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This was not the year for nonsense at the Capitol. Nevertheless, this session included a bill calling for a day to honor "the first powered flight" by Gustave Whitehead.

The debate over whether the German immigrant was first to fly a powered aircraft is fascinating, but legislators don't get to decide the matter by fiat. Politicians should stick to policy and leave history to researchers.

In its 100th anniversary publication, Jane's All the World's Aircraft now credits Mr. Whitehead as "first in flight" in Bridgeport and Fairfield, two years before the Wright brothers flew in Kitty Hawk, N.C. The aviation authority was persuaded by a blurry, indistinct 1901 photo and contemporaneous accounts.

The Smithsonian Institution is still scoffing at the idea. Mr. Whitehead did design proto-airplanes, it acknowledges, but he "in all probability never left the ground."

The Smithsonian, however, has a vested interest in the Wright brothers: It paid $1 for the Wright airplane on condition that it wouldn't credit any other claim to be first in flight.

Mr. Whitehead may or may not have beaten the Wrights in flight, but that won't be decided by a legislature here or in North Carolina (which tried to repudiate the Whitehead claim in a 1985 bill). Matters of historical fact aren't decided by government declaration.

More Silliness

Another section of the same bill designates "Beautiful Connecticut Waltz," by Joseph Leggo of Newington, as the second state song. (The first state song, as every schoolchild should know, is "Yankee Doodle.")

Some of its lyrics: "From Hartford to New Haven / I've kept on savin' / All of my dances for you."

The song is fine, and good for Mr. Leggo for finding a rhyme for New Haven. But does Connecticut need a second state song? And does the bill's passage open the door to having a second state bird, animal, insect, motto, flower, insect, shellfish, hero, or mineral? Or perhaps a third of all of these?

Rewriting history and creating endless state symbols is generally a harmless way to keep the legislature out of trouble. But such actions do little to enhance its reputation as a serious institution.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of the editorial.