Fight launched over state seal

Local lawmaker wants Wright Flyer added to state symbol.

Ohio’s official seal is emblazoned with a sun rising behind Mount Logan along the Scioto River, a harvested wheat field with a sheaf of wheat and a bundle of arrows.

Ohio Rep. Rick Perales says there is nothing wrong with the seal, it just doesn’t have much that is unique to Ohio.

Perales, R-Beavercreek, wants to change that. He has launched legislation to add the Wright Flyer to the official seal to symbolize the state’s foray into flight by the Wright brother’s famous invention.

“Everything on there has a reason and meaning, and I respect that,” Perales said of the existing seal. “I just want to put something else on there that … would say, hey, that’s the (Wright Flyer).”

“The Wright brothers are the beginning of the technological innovations that we’ve had in this area and continue to talk about,” said Perales, a retired Air Force officer. “I think that (the Wright Flyer) is something the whole state can agree on. It’s something that absolutely changed the course of history.”

But Ross County Historical Society Director Thomas Kuhn said the existing seal is full of symbolism as well. The seal represents an idyllic scene of nature near Chillicothe, the first capital of Ohio, and his group’s preference would be to keep the seal unchanged.

“Our thought is we are proud that Ohio is known as the birthplace of aviation and has the heritage of the Wright brothers … (but) we feel that the scene should remain a scene of natural wonder without the introduction of a man-made object into it,” he said.

“If you’re going to add an airplane, why not a space capsule, or why not a man walking on the moon?” he asked. “Where does it end? It’s traditionally been a scene of natural beauty and wonder.”

Amanda Wright Lane, the grand niece of Wilbur and Orville Wright, said David McCullough’s book, “The Wright Brothers,” released this year, has renewed interest in the famous Daytonians and drawn more visitors coast-to-coast this tourist season to Dayton’s aviation heritage sites.

The time is right to place the Wright Flyer on the seal, she said.

“There’s not another state in the nation, obviously, that can claim itself as the birthplace of aviation, and aviation has completely changed us as a nation,” she said. “…I do think it would definitely set our state seal apart from others. … I think the timing is right for an effort like this and a rejuvenation of our pride.”

Failed efforts

A fight is expected. Since 1997, a Dayton area lawmaker has tried and failed three times to land the Wright Flyer on the seal. The seal was last altered in 1996.

“I think certainly there are those that don’t like change,” said state Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, and a one-time naval aviator who co-introduced one of the prior tries.

Changing the seal is not without precedent. “There’s been a lot of revisions to our state seal throughout our history,” Butler said. The seal once had a canal boat, which was removed.

Perales also has introduced a bill that declares the Wright brothers the first in flight — an effort to dispel Connecticut lawmakers’ claims that Gustave Whitehead beat the Wright brothers into the air. The Ohio Senate was expected to vote on the Wright brothers-were-first legislation in November.

In his bill on the state seal, Perales noted he has 40 co-sponsors and reached out to lawmakers across the state, such as Rep. Nan Baker, R-Westlake, to have a better shot at passage this time. Baker wants to see the Wright Flyer fly into the picture on the seal.

“We think it has a lot of meaning,” said the legislator, whose northeast Ohio district stands next to the NASA Glenn Research Center. “I think it is the state of Ohio coming together and recognizing the importance of our aerospace, and we need to make sure that we recognize the jewel that we have.”

For years, agriculture and the auto industry were deemed most important in Ohio, but the state’s aviation heritage has gained importance in its economic future with the rise of aerospace, said Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance.

First in flight

The Wright Flyer stands in history for its brief series of powered flights over the beaches of Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.

Through the years the invention has been claimed by North Carolina, which stamped the plane on its version of the U.S. quarter in 2001 and superimposed “First in Flight” over the Wright Flyer on state license plates.

Timothy R. Gaffney, author of the book, “The Dayton Flight Factory.” said Ohio deserves more recognition for its sizable contribution to powered, piloted flight.

“The Wright Brothers flew (the Wright Flyer) at Kitty Hawk,” he said. “They designed and built it here in Dayton.

“I think a thousand years from now there’s going to be a couple of things people remember about Ohio. And one was we invented the airplane and the other is the first man on the moon was an Ohioan.”

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