First Successful Dirigible, 1883 – Wills’s Aviation #7

First Successful Dirigible

History Behind The Card: First Successful Dirigible, 1883
Card #7 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910


  • Gaston Tissandier, November 21, 1843 in Paris, France – August 30, 1899, in Paris, France;
  • Albert-Charles Tissandier, October 1, 1839 in Anglure, France– September 5, 1906, in Jurançon, France.

This card denotes what is considered to be the first successful dirigible flight – with proper turning – IE a circular flight and the first dirigible to be powered with an electrical motor.

While the fact that Gaston Tissandier escaped Paris by balloon during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 is an impressive feat itself, he became famous for a balloon flight in April 1875 with himself, Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Theodore Sivel reaching the amazing altitude of 8,600-meters (5.34-miles). Although Tissandier survived the extreme altitude, he lost his hearing.

Gaston (l) and Albert Tissandier

Gaston (l) and Albert Tissandier

Despite becoming deaf, Gaston Tissandier was luckier than his two companions who died from oxygen starvation from the thin air at high altitude.

Still, Tissandier is more renowned for achieving the first successful dirigible flight that followed a circular path on October 8, 1883. Though I also think his use of an electrical motor is more impressive, which is what allowed the circular path to be achieved.

Will's Aviation Card 1910 #7 of 50

First off, it should be pointed out that in 1872 a German engineer named Paul Haenlein, first used an internal-combustion engine for flight in an airship that used lifting gas from the bag as fuel.

But, it was the Tissandier brothers who in 1883 became the first to successfully power an airship using an electric motor, in his balloon dubbed ‘France‘.

Better than a steam engine, the electrical motor, figured Tissandier, offered a consistency of weight, absence of fire and could put an object in motion and stop it easily (don’t have to wait until the steam is used up).

Along with his brother Albert, Tissandier attaching a Siemens electric motor featuring a battery of 24 bichromate of potash cells to his ‘Number 6’ dirigible allowing them to travel eight miles an hour in a circular flight path in what was also the first ever electric-powered flight.

The motor is fascinating, and you can read all about it in a January 27, 1883 review in The Telegraphic Journal And Electrical Review – or try to. Keep in mind that you can CLICK on the images on-line… it should make THESE ones larger, and hopefully more readable. I found this on a free e-book and took lousy photos of the screen.




The balloon itself was cigar-shaped and measured measuring 28-meters (91.86-feet) long x 9.2-meters (30.18-feet) in diameter with a volume of 1,060-cubic meters (37,433.55-cubic feet). The car or basket was manufactured from bamboo and suspended from the balloon by ribbons.

As stupid as this may sound, the Wills’s card contains the best drawing of the actual balloon I could find. And, it’s in color!

The balloon took seven hours to fill, and was done using four hydrogen generators that removed pure gas by decomposing water via sulphuric acid and iron and then purified by caustic soda and calcined chloride of lime. The pure gas gave an accessional force of 1.18-grams per cubic meter of gas to provide a better lift.

The Siemens motor, which weighed 704-kilograms (1,552-pounds) would enable the electric balloon to function for three hours—and at 3:30PM the Tissandier brothers flew from their shop at Auteuil, France with a weak east-southeast wind.

Despite the wind measured nearly at zero on the ground, at the height of 500-meters (1,640.42-feet), the wind was much stronger, reaching a speed of three (3)-meters per second (6.71-miles per hour).

With the motor able to achieve four speeds from 60- to 180-revolutions per minute, the Tissandier brothers were able to not only out-speed the wind, but to steer the balloon, as well following a circular route, descending after one-hour near Crossy-sur-Seine in France.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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4 Responses to First Successful Dirigible, 1883 – Wills’s Aviation #7

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