The world of sport ballooning lost one of its pioneers with the death of Don Piccard on September 14, 2020. He was involved in the renaissance of hot air ballooning and a true pioneer of the sport. All of us who wonder at the sight of a hot air balloon in the sky, are in his debt.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lots of museums and historical institutions have letters from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in their collection, but why would a museum dedicated to aviation, space exploration, and planetary science?
Eighteenth century ladies fans are not something visitors normally expect to encounter in the National Air and Space Museum. Nevertheless, we have them! The Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, acquired in 2014 thanks to the generosity of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, includes over 1,000 works of art, prints, posters, objects, manuscripts, and books documenting the history of flight from the first balloon ascensions in 1783 through the early years of the twentieth century.