The new film The Aeronauts truly captures the excitement of ballooning in the 19th century, even if it makes a few historical errors along the way. Ballooning expert Tom Paone explores the history behind the film.
What made the balloon such a key graphic element in political and social satire for over one century? Was it the bulbous shape, or the fact that balloons are wayward craft that tend to go where the wind blows, in spite of the aeronaut’s best efforts? Whatever the reason, the great comic artists of the 18th and 19th century turned to the balloon time and time again in order to poke fun at people and events. The meaning of many of the political satires, the inside joke, is often lost on us today. If any of our friends out there can enlighten us as to the story behind one of these mysteries, we welcome the assistance!
Ballooning had wide-spread popularity in France during the 18th century, but English intellectuals were initially skeptical about the balloon’s utility. At the request of King George III, French experimenter François Pierre Ami Argand flew a small hydrogen balloon from Windsor Castle in November 1783, the first such flight in England.
The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt. The objects in this exhibition provide a sense of the wonder and excitement experienced by those who witnessed the birth of flight over two centuries ago.
The fascination with ballooning swept across Europe and America and became the 18th Century’s version of going viral. Balloon-inspired hair and clothing styles were all the rage in the final years of the century. Craftsmen and merchants produced jewelry, hats, fans, snuff boxes, match and needle cases, dinnerware, wall paper, bird cages, chandeliers, clocks, furniture, and a host of other balloon-themed objects to attract the eyes of customers and open their pocketbooks.
How many balloon designs can you spot in this fashionable woman’s clothing from the late 18th century?
On this day in 1978, Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman took off from Presque Isle, Maine in the gas balloon Double Eagle II in an attempt to cross the Atlantic. The successful crossing took 137 hours, 6 minutes and covered 5,021 kilometers (3,120 miles) landing in a wheat field near Miserey, France.
In 1861, Thaddeus Lowe said he could see more than he could see from his balloon tethered on the National Mall. He wanted toconvince Abraham Lincoln of the potential of the balloon for military reconnaissance. Lowe was successful and the Union Balloon Corps was established.
Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones guided the balloon Breitling Orbiter 3 up and away from the Swiss Alpine village of Chateau d'Oex at 8:05, GMT, 1 March 1999. They landed in the Egyptian desert 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes later (21 March 1999), having traveled a distance of over 29,000 miles and completed the first non-stop flight around the world with a free balloon.