‘Tis the season for holiday cards. Many cards feature photos of families and pets dressed in festive (maybe even matching) outfits. Aviators, on the other hand, celebrate their airplanes! The many collections in the National Air and Space Museum Archives are filled with enough cards to last well beyond the 12 days of Christmas.
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!
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I, setting America on a course to become an important player on the world stage. It was a turning point in the nation’s history that still reverberates through world events a century later. One of the Museum’s most engaging programs in observance of the hundredth anniversary of the First World War is Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen, a year-long film series showing Hollywood’s finest feature films on World War I.
No celebration in 19th century France was complete without a balloon in the weeks and months following its invention. A balloon ascent had the power to gather crowds of delighted spectators eager to see something they had never seen before. This balloon craze was satirized and documented in prints and engravings from the time.
On this day in 1957, Perry Young Jr. became the first African American pilot to fly a regularly scheduled passenger route for a U.S. airline. The press and community leaders hailed the flight as a significant step forward on the path to desegregation. For Young, it marked a professional milestone after years of persistence in the face of discrimination.
On Sunday, February 5, Super Bowl LI television broadcasts will feature aerial images of NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Snoopy One may not have been hovering over Baltimore Stadium (also called Venable Stadium) for the 1922 Army-Marine football game, but photographer H.C. Robinson captured an aerial photograph of the stadium’s inaugural event from 549 meters (1,800 feet) above.
Intrepid men and women who earned their livelihoods in the sky—the aeronauts—emerged as well-known public figures during the 19th century. They were a new breed of aerial showmen, capturing headlines with spectacular ascents and long distance voyages. The Italian Vincenzo Lunardi, Englishmen James Sadler and Charles Green, and the American Thaddeus S. C. Lowe were among the best-known members of this new profession.
The breakout movie Hidden Figures tells the story of three African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA. The story sheds light on the significant contributions of the three women—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—but also the broader impact that women had behind the scenes at NASA.
Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson all began their careers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)—which later became NASA—working as “computers.” Computers were not what we think of them today. They were people, primarily women, who reduced or analyzed data using mechanical calculators—we’ve previously explored the role of computers in astronomy.
As a photographer at the Museum, my job is to make our artifacts stand out in images. This can be a challenge with the type of lighting in our galleries and the limited amount of time I have to shoot before the Museum opens. Over the years, however, I’ve found ways to optimize the lighting and my time to achieve my goals.
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.
Following the success of the early balloonists Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, and Jacques Alexandre César Charles, brave aeronauts attempted to push the boundaries of what was possible with one flight after another. Things did not always go well in these early days of flight. Would-be aeronauts Miolan and Janinet announced that they would fly from Paris on July 11, 1784. By 5:00 pm, with the balloon still on the ground, the crowd lost patience and set it on fire.