History Behind The Card: Montgolfier, 1783 – Invention of the hot-air balloon
Card #2 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
- Joseph Michel Montgolfièr, August 26, 1740 in Annonay, France – June 26, 1810, Balaruc-les-Bains, France;
- Jacques Étienne Montgolfièr, January 6, 1745, Annonay, Ardèche, France – August 2, 1799 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Inventors of the first practical balloon, the Montgolfièr brothers first publicly demonstrated the hot air flight on June 4, 1783 in the marketplace at Annonay, France.
As paper mill owners, the brothers were trying to float bags made of paper and fabric, though it is acknowledged that Joseph was the one to first come up with the air. After holding a flame near the opening at the bottom, the bag filled with hot air causing it to float up.
The brothers believed that they had actually discovered a new type of gas contained within the burning smoke—which they called Montgolfièr gas—that caused the balloon to rise, but in actuality it was plain old air that became more buoyant due to heating.
Seeing the possibilities, the Montgolfièr’s manufactured a larger balloon—henceforth known as a Montgolfière-style of balloon—that was made of paper lined with silk and demonstrated it on June 4, 1783 flying for 2-kilometers (1.2-miles) for 10 minutes and at an estimated height of 2,000-meters (6,562-feet).
The interior of the balloon held nearly 780-cubic meters (28,000-cubic feet). The balloon itself was constructed of four pieces—a dome and three lateral bands) and held shut via 1,800 buttons, and had a reinforced fishing net covering the outer part of the balloon.
A fire was lit on the ground, and the hot air filled the balloon. For this flight, the fire remained on the ground while the balloon itself rocketed up to an estimated 1.8 kilometers (6,000 feet) and then drifted for about 1.6 kilometers (one mile) before the air in the balloon cooled lowering it to the ground safely.
Man had conquered the air.
On September 19, 1783 in Versailles, France, a Montgolfière balloon carried aloft in a wicker basket cage a sheep, duck and rooster for an eight-minute tethered trip in front of the French King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the rest of the French aristocracy. Why these three animals? It was believed that the sheep was similar in physiology to a human, the duck was a control animal to check effects from the aircraft, and the rooster as an additional control because it was a bird that did not normally fly at high altitudes—as there was concern that the high altitude could affect humans. It turns out they were correct, but at higher altitudes.
This was done to see if balloon flight would be safe for human flight – and since the animals all landed safely – point proven. Incidentally, these animals are the first three aerial passengers in history.
October 15 of that year Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes became the first people to fly in a Montgolfièr balloon over Versailles. They flew alone in the free-flight, untethered balloon for 25 minutes at a height of 910 meters (3,000 feet) above Paris. Although there was more than enough fire/fuel to fly at least four times as long, the fabric of the balloon was being scorched by the flame, and the crew smartly brought the Montgolfièr balloon down safely outside the city.
Thanks to their success, in December of 1983, King Louis XVI elevated the Montgolfièr brother’s father Pierre to the nobility and bestowed the honorary name of ‘de Montgolfièr’.
In later versions of the Montgolfière balloons, fires were carried beneath the envelope, and the fire was continually stoked to keep the balloons aloft.
An interesting fact regarding fuel for the fire was that everything and anything was used, from damp straw to rotten meat, to old boots. Mmmm. Smell the fresh air up there.
I should also note, that a few months before the Montgolfière balloon success, a Mr. Charles, a professor of Natural Philosophy, had released a hydrogen gas-filled balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris, France.
While no passengers were aboard, some 100,000 people are estimated to have watch it rise and drift nearly 24 kilometers (15 miles) before landing near the Village of Gonesse.
For the folks not expecting such an apparition, it looked as though the Moon had fallen to the Earth, while others thought it was a monster bird from another planet – perhaps one of the earliest cases of a UFO (unidentified flying object).
Here’s an account of what happened after it landed near Gonesse:
“A small crowd gains courage from numbers, and for an hour approaches by gradual steps, hoping, meanwhile, the monster will take flight. Eventually, one bolder than the rest takes his gun, stalks carefully within range, fires and witnesses the monster shrink, and so gives a shout of triumph causing the crowd to rush in with flails and pitchforks. When one tears what he thinks is the monster’s skin, it causes a poisonous stench (the hydrogen gas!), causing the mob to retire. Shame, no doubt, now urges them on, and they tie the monster to a horses tail, causing it to gallop across the countryside tearing it to shreds.”
By December 1, 1783, Charles made a flight of 43.4 kilometers (27 miles) in his now improved gas-filled balloon. The gas was now contained within a sealed bag, released when necessary through a valve providing lift. These balloons were called the Charlières and with the Montgolfière were soon spreading across Europe.
The Wills’s Aviation card fails to denote that there are actually two Montgolfièr brothers. According to the card, a fire was placed inside the balloon to help it maintain its flight – and was probably done right from the first flight. It is not mentioned if either of the Montgolfièr brothers actually flew in their invention.
Because there is no Wills card denoting the exploits of Professor Charles, I have taken the liberty to add that in here.