Exploring Science in a Balloon

Posted on Fri, March 10, 2017

From Edgar Allen Poe to Jules Verne, 19th century authors employed balloons in imaginative tales to carry their heroes to unexplored sections of Africa and even the Moon. Real-life explorers employed the lighter-than-air craft to probe the upper reaches of the atmosphere, or float across the arctic wastes in an attempt to reach the North Pole.

  • Balloon floats above a small settlement with snow-covered mountains and a lake in the background.

    The people of Torneä, Lapland, bear witness to the launching of the first balloon within the Arctic Circle.

    Etching, English, 1819

  • Two men in the foreground having an exchange with balloon in the background.

    Comic print perhaps ridiculing the high altitude ascents of the English scientist, James Glaisher, who made a series of scientific balloon flights to study conditions in the upper atmosphere. 

    For the Upper Regions O
    Lithograph, English, c. 1868

  • Balloon crashes against cliffs.

    Untitled lithograph, French, late 19th century

  • Black and white balloon print.

    A handbill advertising a stock offering to finance the exploration of uncharted lands by balloon.

    Newsprint, English, no date

  • Colorful oil painting of a balloon over a snow covered terrain.

    Swedish meteorologist Salomon August Andrée and companions Knut Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg set out for the North Pole. Forced down on the ice far from their goal, the trio trekked to White Island in the Arctic Ocean where they died. In 1930, the crew of a passing ship discovered their last camp, solving the mystery of their disappearance. 

    Departure of Andree for the North Pole, 11 July 1897 on the Eagle
    Oil on panel, possibly French, c. 1897

  • Black and white portrait.

    Engraving based on a photo of Salomon August Andrée. German, 1897