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Balloons & Airships

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Wed, February 8 2017

Celebrations in the Sky

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. 

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Aeronaut Sophie Blanchard
Fri, January 27 2017

Four Fantastic Aeronauts

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.

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Vincenzo Lunardi Engraving
Wed, January 18 2017

Crossing the Channel in a Balloon

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.

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Patch Box
Mon, January 9 2017

Sending Humans Aloft

Not to be upstaged by the balloonist Jacques Alexandre César Charles, who launched the first hydrogen balloon in on August 1783, the brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier sent a sheep, a duck, and a rooster aloft in a wicker cage dangling beneath a hot air balloon. The flight took place on September 19, 1783, before an enormous crowd, including the Royal family, gathered in front of the royal Palace of Versailles.

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First Solo Free Flight
Fri, January 6 2017

Launching the Balloon Era

The balloon was a product of the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. Early modern experimenters like the Englishman Robert Boyle, studied the physics of the atmosphere. By the 18th century the focus shifted to the discovery of the constituent gases that make up the atmosphere. Early plans for flying machines inspired by the new discoveries were impractical, but quickly gave way to the first real balloons.

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Fanciful Flying Ship
Wed, November 23 2016

A Collector's Passion for Early Ballooning

As SpongeBob and Turkey shaped-balloons float their way down Central Park West for the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning, we’re reminded of someone from the past who had a great interest in ballooning. Evelyn Way Kendall was a prolific collector of balloon-themed objects, and had perhaps the largest collection of such items in the nation. But what inspired her to amass such a collection?

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Evelyn Way Kendall
Thu, August 11 2016

August 11, 1978: Crossing the Atlantic in a Balloon

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.

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Double Eagle II Over Farmland during its Transatlantic Flight
Thu, June 16 2016

Capturing the Early History of Aeronautics

Among the treasures found within the special collections of the DeWitt Clinton Ramsey Room, a branch of the Smithsonian Libraries located at the National Air and Space Museum, is a collection of oversized scrapbooks with an interesting and complicated history. Originally bound in one volume, William Upcott’s Scrapbook of Early Aeronautica captures the history of lighter-than-air aircraft and aeronautics from 1783 to the 1840s through a rich collection of newspaper clippings, articles, illustrations, and letters.

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Page from the Scrapbook of Early Aeronautica
Wed, June 15 2016

Take to the Air in the Smithsonian’s Balloon

Visitors to our Innovations in Flight Family Day and Outdoor Aviation Display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on June 18, are in for a real treat. In addition to the wide variety of aircraft that will fly in for the event and the other special programs planned, Andrew Richardson, the owner of Adams Balloons LLC of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will be making tethered flights with a new Smithsonian hot air balloon, weather permitting. Realizing that we have a beautiful example of a classic Adams wicker balloon basket on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Richardson asked if we would accept a modern hot air balloon envelope sporting the Smithsonian logo and colors into the collection. While the Museum has a world-class collection of balloon baskets and gondolas, we did not, in fact, have an envelope. Anxious to fill that gap, we quickly accepted Richardson’s generous offer.

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Professor John Wise
Thu, March 24 2016

A Message to You from Uncle Sam’s First Propaganda Balloon

Our Archives houses the Technical Reference Files, an important collection of aeronautical and astronautical topics comprised of 1,920 cubic feet of documents, photographs, and ephemera. This important resource is housed in vertical files and is an organic, growing collection to which material is added constantly. Recently, we came across a remarkable document in the Tech Files of the long fight against tuberculosis—shared with you today in recognition of World Tuberculosis Day.

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American Balloon Service Flyer

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