Aeronaut Thaddeus S. C. Lowe

  • Wall of Honor Location:

    Foil: 21 Panel: 1 Column: 1 Line: 27

  • Wall of Honor Level:

    Air and Space Sponsor

  • Honored by:

    Miss. Irma Story

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe was born August 20, 1832 in Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire and died January 16, 1913 in Pasadena, California. He was an American patriot, balloonist, and inventor.

While Lowe never completed his formal education, he is noted for building one of the largest balloons ever constructed to cross the Atlantic Ocean (1859-1860), held flight endurance records for distance and altitude, and invented the first altimeter used without a horizon.

Lowe is known as the grandfather of the United States Air Force after being appointed to the position of Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Serving under General George McClellan in this civilian post, Lowe constructed five balloons (for a total of seven) to be used to spy on the Confederate Army. Lowe not only was the first prisoner of the Civil War, but was considered "the most shot at man" as well, due to his high profile while aloft.

During this time he also invented a portable hydrogen gas generator to be used for balloon inflations in the field, a method to telegraph the ground while up in his balloons, and a system of signal flags for directing artillery from the air on targets unseen by ground troops. Lowe also converted a barge for use as a floating launching pad for his balloons, an early forerunner of the aircraft carrier.

Due to health issues and bureaucratic red tape, Lowe retired from military service in 1863 and later went on to develop a compressed ice machine for artificial refrigeration (1865), and outfitted the first ship with this apparatus for transport of refrigerated food (1868). He developed the Lowe-Gas method for manufacturing inexpensive heating and illuminating gas beginning in 1875, which research and improvements eventually won the Franklin Institute Silver and Gold medals in 1885 and 1886 respectively.

In 1888 Lowe retired from Pennsylvania to California, founded Citizen's Bank of Los Angeles, and opened a local gas and electric company and another ice manufacturing company. Moving to Pasadena in 1891, Lowe built arguably the largest home in the nation at that time, measuring just less than 24,000 square feet.

1892 brought the incorporation and construction of the first all-electric incline, the Mount Lowe Incline Railway, above Pasadena, California. Lowe later lost control (1897) and went on to hold more than 200 patents and as late as 1910 proposed a method of cargo transportation by dirigible.

Thaddeus Lowe was a loving husband and father of ten children and the grandfather of Florence "Pancho" Barnes, the world famous aviatrix.


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