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100 years later: One Nashvillian’s journey on the first world flight

The first flight to circumnavigate the world took off in Seattle on April 6, 1924 with Nashville local, Jack Harding, aboard. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the Nashville Public Library unveiled a special exhibit.

A black and white photograph of an airplane parked on the ground with people standing in front of it and one person on the wing.

“Chicago” was one of the two DT-2 Bombers that successfully completed the circumnavigation. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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If we were to step back 100 years (and a few days) in time, we’d find ourselves on the cusp of an impressive world event that was tied just as much to Nashville as Seattle, the city in which it took place. We’re talking about the first global circumnavigation by plane.

On April 6, 1924, four airplanes took off from Seattle with the hopes of being the first team to circumnavigate the Earth by airplane. You might know them as the “Magellans of the Sky,” and among them, was Nashvillian Jack Harding.

The United States was not the first country to attempt the feat, but the first to succeed. Great Britain tried and failed in 1922 and France tried the year after — by 1923, several others, including the US, were in on the race.

Prepare for takeoff

Following the resolution of World War I, the globe became invested in developing an aircraft that was light enough to stay aloft, but sturdy enough to be able to make a round-the-world trip.

Once the US military settled on a modified DT-2 Bomber for the operation, it began distributing its thousands of gallons of fuel, 35 replacement engines, and other spare parts across the globe.

It was then that the group of eight pilots making the trailblazing journey traveled from Santa Monica to Seattle to prepare. On April 6, 1924 — a few days after takeoff was initially scheduled to happen — the team took to the sky, bound for Prince Rupert, BC.

After 175 days, 363 hours of flying time, and 26,345 miles traveled, two of the four planes (two planes were lost to crashes, but the crews survived) returned to Seattle where a crowd of ~50,000 waited to celebrate.

A glass display case with printed photographs, maps, and informational story cards on picture frame holders.

There’s more to see, learn, and read at NPL’s new exhibit. | Photo by NASHtoday

How about Harding?

Jack Harding was aboard New Orleans, a plane that celebrated a successful landing. He served as Lt. Eric Nelson’s navigator, and together they overcame various obstacles on their journey, from an oil leak to getting caught in the propeller wash of another plane over the ocean.

You might be asking, “How did he get here?” Harding was a mechanic from a child, taking apart his mother’s sewing machine just to see how it functioned, before later attending Vanderbilt University with money he earned from working in a garage.

As soon as the US entered the war, Harding became a private in the Army Air Service. After some trial and error, he was eventually sent to aviation mechanics training school where he thrived. Here, he received the opportunity make a “Round the Rim” flight in 1919 (or the first circumnavigation of the continental US), and well, now you’re all caught up.

Spread your wings a bit further

To commemorate the great technological feat, the Nashville Public Library’s Main Branch unveiled an exhibit in the Metro Archives West Reading Room on Saturday.

Tour the room for a detailed timeline of the events that unfolded, with a special focus on Jack Harding, while also viewing accompanying photos and artifacts. Don’t miss: Interactive QR code elements — like this one modeling a Douglas aircraft in 3D A/R.

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