The world of sport aviation suffered a tragic loss on March 25, 2019, with the death of Julian R.P. Nott after an accident on the ground following a successful landing of an experimental balloon. Nott was one of the founders of the modern sport ballooning movement and an innovator in the field.
In the wake of the Black Sox Scandal, Baseball was looking to restore its integrity with a leader with his feet firmly on the ground. They elected Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner (or “Czar”) of Baseball. A long-serving jurist from Chicago, Landis was known for his decisions against big businesses, such as Standard Oil, and for slipping out to Cubs and White Sox games. But Landis also had his head in the clouds, a true aviation enthusiast!
In 1858, French photographer Gaspar Félix Tournachon took a photo of a village from his hot air balloon--the first aerial photograph. Since then, aerial photography has changed how we see the world around us.
The Clouds in a Bag exhibit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, displays many early renditions of ballooning, including a 18th-19th century dance box. Take a look at the conservation process behind this charming object.
The dangers of ballooning were apparent to aeronauts and the general public. From the early 1800s, attempts to fly over water too often ended in disaster or a narrow escape. Some of the best known aeronauts on both sides of the Atlantic set off across a large body of water never to be seen again. The daring rescue of balloonists from water was a favorite subject with artists and engravers. The vision of a “lost balloon” vanishing over the horizon became a metaphor for the uncertainties of life in the turbulent 19th century.
Having watched the first humans rise into the air, Benjamin Franklin predicted that the new invention would have considerable military value, enabling an aerial view of an enemy’s army for “conveying intelligence into, or out of, a besieged town, giving signals to distant places, or the like.”
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!