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The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will open the exhibition “Clouds in a Bag: The Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection” Jan. 28 at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Va. This will be the first time these early aviation artifacts will go on public display since the Smithsonian acquired the collection in 2014.

When the first balloon rose over the rooftops of Paris in the late 18th century, enormous crowds gathered to watch. This phenomenon spurred a new age of aeronauts dreaming of what else could fly. The excitement of this achievement was captured much like it would be today—in artwork and on memorabilia; objects such as decorative fans, china, snuff boxes and prints will be on display. “Clouds in a Bag” explores the fascination of the first balloon flights through these pieces.

 “The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt,” said Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum. “After centuries of dreaming, we were airborne at last! Visitors to the exhibition will be able to share some of the excitement experienced by those who watched the first aerial travelers rise into the sky.”

The exhibition includes 51 prints, paintings and drawings, and 35 examples of 18th- and 19th-century memorabilia. This is a small portion of the collection of over 1,000 pieces in the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, donated to the museum by the Norfolk Charitable Trust in 2014. The Norfolk Charitable Trust also supported the processing, conservation and exhibition of the collection.

“Clouds in a Bag” will be open through 2018. To learn more about the exhibition, visit

The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Attendance at both buildings combined was 9 million in 2016, making it the most-visited museum in America. Both buildings are open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25). The museum’s mobile app, GO FLIGHT, allows visitors to connect with the collection and its stories beyond the museum’s walls.

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The crowd cheers the London ascent of the balloon Royal Sultan, flown by Mr. Charles Paternoster, August 7, 1854.

This fan from the Kendall Collection was produced by the Duvelleroy Company in about 1900. 

A small box featuring a mixed hot air and hydrogen balloon over the English Channel from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

A bandbox celebrating the flight of Richard Clayton from Cincinnati, Ohio, 1835 from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

An enthusiastic crowd gathers for George Graham’s launch from the New Hungerford Market, London, July 2, 1833.