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Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection
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Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection
Charles Edgar Myers (1842 1925) was a meteorologist, photographer and balloonist. He grew up in the town of Mohawk, New York, becoming adept at the use of all types of electrical, chemical, and mechanical apparatus.
Myers started working in 1861 when he was hired as a teller by the Mohawk Valley Bank, a position which soon led to his interest in developing, and the subsequent invention of, a comparison system for identifying bogus bank notes. In 1863, at the solicitation of the Bank's officers, Myers established the town's first telegraph office. He resigned his position at the bank in 1867 and purchased a photograph gallery in the village of Hornell (then Hornellsville), New York. Fascinated with the rapid technical advances then being made in photography, he constructed a portable photographic set up for taking wet process photographs in scenic, remote locations. Using this equipment he produced the first known series of stereoscopic views of the Adirondack Wilderness billed as "The Adirondack Series."
While living in Hornellsville he met Mary Breed Hawley, seven years his junior, whom he married in 1871. In 1875 Myers sold the photographic gallery and moved back to Mohawk where he and Mary began to experiment with methods of making fabrics impervious to hydrogen gas so they would be suitable for manufacturing balloons and airship envelopes. Myers' interest in ballooning appears to have arisen out of his continuous involvement in meteorological measurements and a desire to further his studies of the atmosphere. One of his earliest achievements was the development of an automatic self-recording mercury barometer which properly compensated for temperature changes and kept a continuous record of local barometric pressure.
In 1878, Myers constructed his first balloon, but did not make his first ascension until 1880. Mary, who would later win notoriety as "Carlotta Queen of the Air," made her first ascension a few months later. Their only child, a daughter whom they named Elizabeth Aerial, was born the following year in 1881.
During the ten years that the Myers resided in Mohawk, Carl constructed and flew a variety of balloons and airships. He also developed a varnishing machine for producing fabrics impervious to hydrogen gas, produced a portable system for generating hydrogen gas, patented an apparatus for guiding balloons, and made the first balloon ascension using natural gas as the lifting medium. Within this time period he also published the writings of his wife, The Aerial Adventures of Carlotta, and started The Balloon Bulletin, a four page illustrated periodical devoted to aeronautics. Mary, it is said, made more balloon ascensions than any person in America and was one of the only balloonists of that era to attain a measure of navigational control during untethered flight.
In 1889 Myers purchased the property owned by Fred Gates in Frankfort, New York, renaming it the "Balloon Farm." When the Weather Bureau was transferred to the Agriculture Department in 1891, he visited Mr. George E. Curtis in Washington, D.C., to propose his services as a supplier of balloons for meteorological use. In the next few years Myers manufactured more then one hundred balloons for the Weather Bureau and personally participated in rainmaking experiments involving "exploding " balloons which he designed for this purpose. In 1898 the Balloon Farm supplied the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC) with twenty-one balloons for use in the Spanish American War. In 1904 Myers was appointed Superintendent of Aeronautics at the St. Louis Exposition where he was in charge of aeronautic exhibits and also arranged for, and supervised, such special features as balloon races and demonstrations of the latest airships.
Myers continued to operate the Balloon Farm until 1910, when he sold the farm and moved to his daughter's home in Atlanta, Georgia. His last known work on ballooning appeared in 1913 when he wrote an article for Scientific American titled "Half a Lifetime with the Hydrogen Balloon."
The images in this collection were donated by the great-granddaughter of Mr. White, who worked with Carl Myers and who was the photographer of these images. The original glass plates were brought to the Museum, where they were copied by the NASM Photo Lab and returned to the donor. Captioning was done by Tom Wildenberg in accordance with the historical record and written comments that accompanied the images.
Finding aid prepared by Tom Wildenberg, 1995.
Finding aid encoded by Amanda Buel, 2016.
Carl Myers (1842-1925) was a meteorologist, photographer and balloonist. In 1875, Myers and his wife Mary ("Carlotta, Queen of the Air") began experimenting with balloons and made their first ascensions in 1880. Myers constructed and flew a variety of balloons and airships, and worked on the following technical advances: he developed a varnishing machine for producing fabrics impervious to hydrogen gas; he produced a portable system for generating hydrogen gas; he patented an apparatus for guiding balloons; and he made the first balloon ascension using natural gas as the lifting medium. Myers manufactured balloons for the U.S. Weather Bureau's rainmaking experiments and also supplied the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC) with twenty-one balloons for use in Spanish American War. Myers retired in 1910.
The collection consists of 91 images of the following: balloons, airships, and aeronautical gear in various stages of construction and flight; interior and exterior views of the Carl Myers Balloon Farm; and a number of portraits taken of the family and visitors, including Thomas C. Benbow, a noted pioneering aeronaut. It also contains correspondence written by Myers to Professor Henry Allen (H.A.) Hazen, a meteorologist connected with the United States Signal Office, and one letter to George E. Curtis, head of the U.S. Weather Bureau.
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The Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection is organized into two series.
Series 1: Photographic Images of the Carl Myers Balloon Farm (1889-1910); 91 images
Series 2: Correspondence (1891-1894); 20 items
Scope and Contents
The Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection spans the years 1889-1910 and contains photographs and documents produced at the property of that name in Frankfort, New York, owned and operated by Carl Myers. "Professor Myers" as he was called by the press in his day, was a pioneering aeronaut, inventor, and experimenter actively engaged in all aspects of ballooning during these years.
The bulk of the collection consists of ninety-one captioned photographs showing a variety of balloons, airships, and aeronautical gear in various stages of construction and flight. Also included in this material are several interior and exterior views of the main house known as the Gates Mansion (see note) along with a number of portraits, both individual and group, taken of the family and visitors - possibly including several of Thomas C. Benbow. The latter was another pioneering aeronaut who visited the Balloon Farm in 1903 in conjunction with the construction of an airship later identified in contemporary press accounts of the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 as the Benbow Airship "Meteor."
Other material in the Carl Myers Balloon Collection consist of correspondence composed between 1891 and 1894. Except for one unrelated item, all are copies of letters written by Myers to George E. Curtis, head of the U.S. Weather Bureau, Department of Agriculture, and Henry Allen Hazen, then Professor of Meteorology at the Weather Bureau. The contents of these letters contain proposals for, discussions about, and observations involving the use of balloons for meteorological research. Information documented in these letters includes material on balloon technology, economical aspects of ballooning, and the operational aspects of conducting aeronautical activities with balloons in the 1890s.
Detailed information on the life of Carl Myers can be found in the biographical files of the National Air and Space Museum's Archives Division. Additional correspondence between Myers and the Weather Bureau is purported to be located in the archives of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Materials concerning Henry Allen Hazen can be found in two locations: at the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, listed under the Aeronautical Archives, Institute of the Aerospace Sciences, and at the Smithsonian Institution Archives under the Office of the Secretary, Records of the Smithsonian Institution.
Further information on Thomas Benbow and the Benbow "Meteor" (which the donor referred to as the "Montana Butterfly") can be located in the biographical files held at the National Air and Space Museum's Archives. Additional photographs of the Benbow Airship can be found in the Museum's photographic collection, images 2B 2166-2179.
NOTE: Gates Mansion - The main building at the Balloon Farm was located on Cemetery Hill Road in Frankfort, New York. It was a large mansion constructed by William Gates, the inventor of the sulfur safety match, in 1878 at a cost of $35,000. The property was sold to Carl Myers by Gates' son Fred.
United States. Army. Signal Corps
United States. Weather Bureau
Benbow, Thomas C.
Curtis, George E. (George Edward)
Hazen, Henry Allen, 1849-1900
Myers, Carl, 1842-1925
Myers, Mary, "Carlotta Queen of the Air"
Aeronautics -- Exhibitions
Balloons -- Exhibitions
Meteorology -- Research
Balloons -- Materials
Carl Myers Balloon Farm
Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection, Acc. 1991-0075, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.