Lunardi's balloon

Early ballooning in 18th Century France and England

We are delighted to hand you over to a returning visitor to our blog, the lovely Regan Walker who has been busy carrying out her usual, meticulous research for her latest romantic Georgian romance, Echo in the Wind (to find out more about her latest book, check out the end of this post).

In France

The Montgolfier brothers

In November of 1782, Joseph Montgolfier, a French manufacturer of paper began to wonder if rising smoke might be used to carry a balloon aloft. With his brother Etienne, he experimented, and by June 1783, the brothers Montgolfier built a balloon made of silk and lined with paper that was 33 feet in diameter. They launched it, unmanned, from the marketplace in Annonay, France. The balloon rose 5,200-6,600 feet and stayed aloft for ten minutes. History was made.

Word of their success quickly spread. The French king, Louis XVI, who was known to dabble in science and a great friend of Benjamin Franklin, desired a demonstration.

For this flight, the Montgolfier brothers constructed a balloon about 30 feet in diameter made of taffeta and coated with a varnish of alum for fireproofing. The balloon was decorated with golden flourishes, zodiac signs, and suns symbolizing King Louis XVI.

On September 19, 1783, the brothers made an unmanned flight before a crowd of 130,000 at Versailles, including King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. This flight was also unmanned. The next step, of course, would be a manned flight.

Montgolfier balloon

The first balloon flight with humans aboard, a tethered flight, was performed in October 1783 by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a French chemistry and physics teacher, and the Marquis François d’Arlandes, a French military officer. Mindful of the dangers, Louis XVI wanted to use prisoners, but de Rozier persuaded the king to let him and the marquis have that honor. The flight was successful.

About a month later, in November 1783, de Rozier and the d’Arlandes made the first free ascent in a balloon, flying from the center of Paris to the suburbs, a trouble-free journey of two hours.

The crowd watching the take off of de Rozier and d'Arlandes in Paris, 1783.

Benjamin Franklin, the diplomatic representative of America, then in France, witnessed the balloon taking off and wrote in his journal:

We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner. When it reached around 250 feet in altitude, the intrepid voyagers lowered their hats to salute the spectators. We could not help feeling a certain mixture of awe and admiration.

The Montgolfiers believed they had discovered a new gas (which they called Montgolfier gas) that was lighter than air and caused the inflated balloons to rise. In fact, the gas was merely air, which became more buoyant as it was heated. The balloon rose because the air within was lighter and less dense than the surrounding atmosphere, which pushed against the bottom of the balloon.

The limitations of using air were soon realized. As the air cooled, the balloon was forced to descend. Keeping a fire burning meant the risk of sparks setting the bag on fire. Other methods were explored, including hydrogen.

On December 1, 1783, Jacques Alexandre César Charles launched a balloon containing hydrogen from the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris before vast crowds.

Jacques Alexandre César Charles launches his balloon on the 1st December 1783.

Jacques Charles and his co-pilot, Nicolas-Louis Robert, ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet and landed at sunset after a flight of just over 2 hours. It is believed 400,000 spectators witnessed the launch. Hundreds paid one crown each to help finance the construction and receive access to a “special enclosure” for a close-up view of the lift off. Among the “special enclosure” crowd was Benjamin Franklin, who had become quite a fan of the aerostatic globes, as he called them. In my new Georgian novel, Echo in the Wind, this new love of Franklin’s is remembered and his thoughts at the time recalled.

In England 

The first person in Britain to ascend in a balloon was a Scot, James Tytler, an apothecary and the editor of the second edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

James Tytler, a Scot, the first person in Britain to ascend in a hot air balloon.

Notwithstanding Tytler’s achievement, “Balloonomania” swept Britain due largely to the exploits of an Italian, Vincenzo (“Vincent”) Lunardi, who, quite the showman,  styled himself as “the Daredevil Aeronaut”.

Vincenzo (“Vincent”) Lunardi, who, quite the showman, styled himself as “the Daredevil Aeronaut”.

Following in the footsteps of the Montgolfier brothers in France, Lunardi arrived in London from Italy in the early 1780s determined to demonstrate the wonders of balloon-powered flight.

On the morning of September 15, 1784, nearly 200,000 people watched as Lunardi launched a hydrogen balloon into the air from the Artillery Ground on the northern outskirts of London. The envelope of the balloon was made of oiled silk, and had a diameter of 33 feet.

For the flight, Lunardi was accompanied by three companions: a dog, a cat and a pigeon. A special stand had been erected for George, the Prince of Wales, who tipped his silk hat in deference as the balloon began to rise. The balloon drifted north for 24 miles before landing safely in Hertfordshire.

Lunardi's balloon

Lunardi’s balloon was later exhibited at the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Lunardi made five sensational flights in Scotland in 1785, creating a ballooning fad and inspiring ladies’ fashions in skirts and hats. (The “Lunardi bonnet” is mentioned in the poem To a Louse by Robert Burns.)

The age of the hot air balloon had arrived and mankind was forever committed to the sky.

Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker. “Walker sweeps you away to a time and place you'll NEVER want to leave!” ~ NY Times Bestselling author Danelle Harmon.
“Walker sweeps you away to a time and place you’ll NEVER want to leave!” ~ NY Times Bestselling author Danelle Harmon

England and France 1784

Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.

As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted.

Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.

Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet? 

Echo in the Wind On Amazon: 

US – click here

UK – click here

Canada – click here

 And on Regan’s website


Sources Used:

Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900, by S.L. Kotar, J.E. Gessler

The First Hot-Air Balloon | The Greatest Moments in Flight

History of Transport and Travel

A Short History of Ballooning

The History of Hot Air Ballooning

Wikipedia: History of Ballooning

Wikipedia: James Tytler

Vincenzo Lunardi’s Hydrogen Balloon 1784

Vincenzo Lunardi – First man to navigate the skies over England

Wikipedia: Vincenzo Lunardi

First successful manned hot air balloon launched in America – 23rd June 1784

Hot air ballooning was very much in fashion in the 1780s and most people know the Montgolfier Brothers made the first hot air balloon flights in France in 1783.  We also know from our previous blog that the first men who died in a manned hot air flight were Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and Pierre Romain in 1785. However, across the other side of the world, a year earlier according to the St James Chronicle of 28th August 1784, a young man aged just 13, by the name of Edward Warren was the first person to participate in a US balloon flight. The exact date of this flight seems to vary between the 23rd and 25th June.

Authentic accounts from Baltimore, in Maryland, mention Mr Carns, an inhabitant of that Town, had constructed several air-balloons which has succeeded beyond expectation.  On the 25th June last, he sent up a large aerostatic Globe, to which one Edward Warren, a youth of 13 years of age, was fastened; the balloon went out of sight, and was in the air near two hours, when the weather being exceedingly calm, it descended about two miles from Baltimore, amidst the acclamations of the people, who liberally rewarded the boy for the intrepidity he had shown upon the occasion.

Mr Carns apparently wanted to make the attempt himself but was too large for the basket, so Edward was a last minute substitution.

We have searched everywhere we can think of to find out what became of the young man, but without success. Do any of our American readers know what became of Edward Warren?

An air balloon invented in the last century
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Two Tragically Die in Balloon Accident – 15th June 1785

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier a French chemist and physics teacher was one of the first pioneers of aviation along with his companion Pierre Romain.  However, on Wednesday the 15th June 1785 tragedy stuck when the pair were to find their places in the history books for becoming the first fatalities in an air crash – not quite the accolade they were seeking when trying to cross the English Channel from France to England!

Balloon - Pilatre de Rozier

An extract from a letter from Boulogne dated 15th June 1785 appeared in The Derby Post and several others the following day giving an account of their tragic deaths.

Poor Pilartre de Rozier and a Mons. Romain ascended in the grand balloon, at seven this morning, and made a fine appearance in the ascent, bidding fair for a prosperous voyage to England, but in half an hour, when they were at a great height, and about three miles from the town, the balloon caught fire, and of course fell to the ground. The two intrepid adventurers were dashed to pieces. I was with the bodies in half an hour and never saw anything so shocking.

I examined the bodies, but do not find anything broke above the middle, so that they must have come down perpendicularly, but their legs and thighs are broke in many places. I shook hands with Rozier almost the last person in his life time; he was a fine young fellow, and thought for several days past had a presentiment of his untimely end in his countenance; he has been indefatigable for this week in preparing his machine – I hope to never hear of another being attempted in this or any other country; but people blame him, as it was owing to the Montgolfier he carried with the balloon, which set it on fire.

The article continues …

The late celebrated Mr Pilatre de Rozier was the first hardy adventurer, who ascended attached to a fire balloon at Paris on the 15th October 1783, about ten months after Mr. Montgolfier had invented that singular machine.  On his return from the sky, he received the compliments due to his courage and activity, having shown to the world, the accomplishment of what had been for ages desired and attempted in vain.

It is thought the melancholy exists of M. Pilatre de Rozier and his no less unfortunate companion, will in some measure check the too-soaring ideas of the many candidates for aerial fame, who are now in our metropolis, who had pledged themselves to the public shortly to encounter, at the peril of their existence, the dangers of an element as fickle as it is unknown.

M. Rofier was to have been married immediately on his arrival in England, to a Miss Dyer, a beautiful young lady of great fortune in Yorkshire.

Balloon - accident

Possibly unable to cope with the loss of her fiance, the beautiful and accomplished Miss Susan Dyer apparently died just eight days later at a convent in Boulogne, reports stating that her death was possibly a suicide. however, this seems to have been countered by an article in The Botanic garden by Erasmus Darwin & William Blake written 1825 which states that she ‘lingered for some months and died of grief‘ – perhaps a less dramatic and possibly more accurate account.

According to The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of the 20th June, Rozier’s companion. Romain did not die immediately but was conscious enough to ask for water just before taking his last breath. Little appears to have been recorded about Romain, however, he was selected for this attempt by Rozier due to his vast knowledge of physics and mechanical power. He was a young man only 27 or 28. He was described as being of a florid complexion, middle-sized, well built and active.

The modern hybrid gas and hot air balloon is named the Roziere balloon after his pioneering design. A commemorative obelisk was later erected at the site of the crash. The King of France had a medal struck and gave his family a pension of 2,000 livres.

Tethered balloon.
Tethered balloon.