French brothers Jacques and Joseph Montgolfier
, local paper manufacturers in the town of Alchemy in southern France, noticed that when they burned their paper the ashes floated up in the air.
They believed that the heat and smoke from the flame had a special lifting quality and that set their minds to inventing a craft that could capture smoke and heat to lift them off the ground.
On the 19th of September, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers successfully launched a balloon made from paper and cloth. To inflate the balloon they burned a combination of straw, chopped wool and dried horse manure underneath the balloon. As the straw burned it released heat that helped the balloon float.
The wool and manure made lots of smoke and helped keep the burning flame low, which lessened the risk of the balloon catching fire. The brothers were far too nervous to try out their invention themselves so they sent up a sheep, a duck and a rooster to see what happened. The paper balloon floated up into the sky and landed safely after eight minutes.
Benjamin Franklin, Ambassador to France at the time (in attendance for the Montgolfier’s courageous launch) wrote a description of the Montgolfier hot air balloon to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London: “Its bottom was open and in the middle of the opening was fixed a kind of basket grate, in which fagots and sheaves of straw were burnt. The air, rarefied in passing through this flame, rose in the balloon, swelled out its sides, and filled it. The persons, who were placed in the gallery made of wicker and attached to the outside near the bottom, had each of them a port through which they could pass sheaves of straw into the grate to keep up the flame and thereby keep the balloon full.
One of these courageous philosophers, the Marquis d’Arlandes, did me the honor to call upon me in the evening after the experiment, with Montgolfier, the very ingenious inventor. I was happy to see him safe. He informed me that they lit gently, without the least shock, and the balloon was very little damaged.”
Benjamin Franklin also wrote in his journals how the competition between the Montgolfier brothers and George Cayley had hastened the progress of the hot air balloon. Franklin saw these balloons as a discovery of great importance, one that might possibly give a new turn to human affairs by convincing heads of state of the folly of war. However, Benjamin Franklin urged the inventors to immediately invent a way to steer the new air balloons, which went in the direction of the prevailing wind.
The French wasted no time exploiting the new technology. Eleven years later, in France’s war with Austria, tethered balloons were used in the siege of Mainz and were decisive at the Battle of Fleurus. The captain of the Company of Aerostiers was a man named Coutelle, a shadowy figure who was ridiculed for espousing the use of balloons on the battlefield. After France’s victory, he became a national hero. De Lana had foreseen the possible military uses of his flying evacuated copper globes, and feared flight for “the disturbance it would cause to the civil government of men.” It took more than a century, but his words proved prophetic.
Once the Montgolfier brothers realized what they had achieved they approached the King of France to see if he would view their invention, with two people on board instead of farmyard animals. King Louis XVI agreed.
On the 21st of November, 1783, a hot air balloon was launched in Paris for all to see. On board were two close friends of the brothers, Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurnet (the modern word ‘pilot’ comes from Pilatre de Rozier’s name). The balloon was successfully launched and rose 500 feet (approx 150 m) above the rooftops of Paris, eventually landing a few miles away in some vineyards.
1793 – The First Balloon Flight in North America: A 45-minute flight from Philadelphia to Gloucester County, New Jersey is made by Jean Pierre Blanchard on January 9. George Washington is present to see the balloon launch.