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Balloons & Airships

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Fri, March 10 2017

Exploring Science in a Balloon

In the early years of the balloon, explorers employed the lighter-than-air craft to probe the upper reaches of the atmosphere, or float across the arctic wastes in an attempt to reach the North Pole.

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Etching
Fri, March 3 2017

Balloons in War

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.”

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Collecting Cards
Mon, February 20 2017

The Balloon in Social and Political Satire

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! 

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Lithograph
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

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