Lafayette, Ind., 1859. Credit: Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The Montgolfier brothers in Paris
Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier were the first people to successfully launch a manned balloon. In 1783 they sent a duck, a rooster and a sheep aloft in a basket suspended from a smoke-filled envelope in Paris. Another word for a hot-air balloon is Montgolfier, in honor of these pioneering aeronauts.
The first hydrogen-filled balloon
Also in 1783, Jacque Charles successfully launched a hydrogen-filled balloon in France. Gas-filled balloons are often called Charlieres in honor of Charles’ ground-breaking work with his hydrogen balloon.
Early reactions to balloons
While in cities like Paris, people were generally excited about the novelty and promise of balloons, in rural areas balloons were often met with violence. Villagers would even attack a downed balloon. The hissing from the bag, the noxious smell of the hydrogen gas and the thrashing of the envelope must have been terrifying for people who had never seen anything other than birds fly in the sky.
The first American balloon flight
With George Washington in attendance, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, launched his hydrogen balloon from Philadelphia in 1793. It landed some 20 miles away in New Jersey.