This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Going up in the Hot Air Balloon First Time Ever.
Has there been any scientific issue that has excited human imagination more that flight? Keep that question in mind as we ponder the effect on the people who saw the first humans take to the sky.
This selection is from from Astra Castra : Experiments and Adventures in the Atmosphere by Hatton Turnor published in 1865.
Time: 5 pm, August 27, 1783
A shout of joy rang through Europe, and reached the ear of the aged Euler, on the banks of the Neva, who, between attacks of vertigo, which were soon to carry him from this scene to a better, dictated to his sons the calculations he had made on aerostatical globes. It is said he ceased to calculate and live at the same instant.
The cause of so great enthusiasm had better be given in the accurate description that immediately circulated among the peoples:
“On Thursday, June 5, 1783, the States of Vivarais being assembled at Annonay (37 miles from Lyons), Messrs. Montgolfier invited them to see their new aerostatic experiment.
“Imagine the surprise of the Deputies and spectators on seeing in the public square a ball, 110 feet in circumference, attached at its base to a wooden frame of 16 feet surface. This enormous bag, with frame, weighed 300 lbs., and could contain 22,000 feet of vapor.
“Imagine the general astonishment when the inventors announced that, as soon as it should be filled with gas — which they had a simple means of making — it would rise of itself to the clouds. One must here remark that, notwithstanding the general confidence in the knowledge and wisdom of Messrs. Montgolfier, such an experiment appeared so incredible to those who were present, that all doubted of its success.
“But Messrs. Montgolfier, taking it in hand, proceed to make the vapors, which gradually swell it out till it assumes a beautiful form.
“Strong arms are now required to retain it; at a given signal it is loosed, rises with rapidity, and in ten minutes attains a height of 6000 feet; it proceeds 7668 feet in a horizontal direction, and gently falls to the ground.
“Just as the Omnipotent, who turns
The system of a world’s concerns,
From mere minutie can educe
Events of the most important use;
But who can tell how vast the plan,
Which this day’s incident began?”
The effect of this letter in England was to cause a display of jealousy at which we might now blush, if we do not remember that the sagacious and convincing views of Adam Smith on political economy had only just been published and had not yet had time to circulate; for, though we were obliged to admit a discovery had been made in France, yet the periodicals argued that all the experiments that had led to it were made in England. Many were the caricatures which appeared.
In a discourse at the Academy of Lyons, Jacques Montgolfier says that a French copy of Priestley’s Experiments relating to the Different Kinds of Air came in his way, and was to him like light in darkness; as from that moment he conceived the possibility of navigating the air, but, after some experiments in gas, he again tried smoke and hot air.
In Paris this intelligence caused a meeting of savants, who, by the advice of M. Faujas de Saint-Fond, started a public subscription for defraying the expense of making inflammable gas (hydrogen), the materials of which were expensive: one thousand pounds of iron filings and four hundred ninety-eight pounds of sulphuric acid were consumed to fill a globular bag of varnished silk, which, for the first time, was designated a ballon, or balloon, as we call it, meaning a great ball.
The filling commenced on August 23d, in the Place des Victoires. Bulletins were published daily of its progress, but, as the crowd was found to be immense, it was moved on the night of the 26th to the Champ-de-Mars, a distance of two miles. It was done secretly and in the dark, to avoid a mob.
A description by an eye-witness is as follows: “No more wonderful scene could be imagined than the balloon being thus conveyed, preceded by lighted torches, surrounded by a cortege, and escorted by a detachment of foot and horse-guards; the nocturnal march, the form and capacity of the body carried with so much precaution; the silence that reigned, the unseasonable hour, all tended to give a singularity and mystery truly imposing to all those who were unacquainted with the cause. The cab-drivers on the road were so astonished that they were impelled to stop their carriages, and to kneel humbly, hat in hand, while the procession was passing.”
In the morning the Champ-de-Mars was lined with troops, every house to its very top, and every avenue, was crowded with anxious spectators. The discharge of a cannon at 5 P.M. was the signal for ascent, and the globe rose, to the great surprise of the spectators, to a height of three thousand one hundred twenty-three feet in two minutes, where it entered the clouds. The heavy rain which descended as it rose did not impede, and tended to increase, surprise. The idea that a body leaving the earth was traveling in space was so sublime, and appeared to differ so greatly from ordinary laws, that all the spectators were overwhelmed with enthusiasm. The satisfaction was so great that ladies in the greatest fashions allowed themselves to be drenched with rain, to avoid losing sight of the globe for an instant.
The balloon, after remaining in the atmosphere three-quarters of an hour, fell in a field near Gonesse, a village fifteen miles from the Champ-de-Mars. The descent was imputed to a tear in the silk.
The effect on the inhabitants of this village well illustrates that the human character with an unawakend intellect is the same in all countries and ages:
“For on first sight it is supposed by many to have come from another world; many fly; others, more sensible, think it a monstrous bird. After it has alighted, there is yet motion in it from the gas it still contains. A small crowd gains courage from numbers, and for an hour approaches by gradual steps, hoping meanwhile the monster will take flight. At length one bolder than the rest takes his gun, stalks carefully to within shot, fires, witnesses the monster shrink, gives a shout of triumph, and the crowd rushes in with flails and pitchforks. One tears what he thinks to be the skin, and causes a poisonous stench; again all retire. Shame, no doubt, now urges them on, and they tie the cause of alarm to a horse’s tail, who gallops across the country, tearing it to shreds.”
Hot air balloon first time ever.