Indiana University Bloomington

Conquest of the Skies: A History of Ballooning

19th-Century Histories

 Aeronautica Title Page
Aeronautica, or Voyages in the Air; containing the Principles of Aerostation, and of Flying Machines, description of the Montgolfiers’ Balloon; Aerial Voyage of M. Pilatre de Rozier, and the Marquis de Arlands; together with All those Performed in England, from Lunardi’s down to those of M. Garnerin’s inclusive; also Shewing the Use to which Air Balloons may be Applied; and also the Method of Constructing, Filling, and Conducting them. London, Printed and Published by V. Griffiths, No. 1 Paternoster Row, [180-].

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A brief history listing highlights in the history of aerostation, particularly in England, and the practical uses for which it might be used.


Dupuis-Delcourt. Nouveau manuel complet d'Aérostation ou guide pour servir à l'histoire et à la pratique des ballons. Paris: a la Librairie Encyclopédique de Roret, 1850.

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This work is meant to be a comprehensive account of the history of aerostation up to 1850. Notably, he includes the story of James Wilcox, a carpenter in Philadelphia, who supposedly flew a balloon in 1783. This was a hoax that appeared in a Paris newspaper and was not challenged until the early 20th century.

One chapter includes the poetry written about ballooning, including the epitaph written for Pilatre de Rozier after his death.


Arthur Mangin. La navigation aérienne. Tours: Ad Mame et Cie, 1859.

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A general history of ballooning and parachuting, complete with a section on the various aerostatic “shipwrecks” throughout the previous century. The appendix gives details on the practice of aerostation: how to construct balloons, make the gas, what instruments would be useful to take with you, etc. The frontispiece shows a balloon as it is about to fall into a field, with the aeronaut clinging to the car for dear life.


F. Marion. Les ballons et les voyages aériens. Paris: Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1867.

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Marion begins with a particularly glowing introduction to the discovery of aerostation, comparing Montgolfier to Christopher Columbus and asserting that for the people, all other scientific discoveries were as nothing to the balloon, which symbolizes for Marion the inexorable forward motion of human progress.

The work is a general history of ballooning in three parts. Part one covers the first year, the “Conquest of the Sky.” Part two provides an overview of ballooning since 1783 including a “Nécrologie de l’aérostation,” in which he gives accounts of those who have lost their lives to the new science. The first to die was the first to fly: Pilatre de Rozier, while attempting to fly across the English Channel using a new balloon of his own design, plunged to his death after the balloon burst into flame. Other famous deaths include Madame Blanchard, Olivari, and Sadler.

Part three lists the scientific voyages, studies, and practical applications (such as warfare) undertaken from the beginnings up through 1861. In his epilogue he makes reference to the newest ideas in aerial navigation, including the airplane.


Wilfrid de Fonvielle. Aventures aériennes et expériences mémorables des grands aéronautes. Paris: E. Plon et Cie, 1876.

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Rather than trying to offer a comprehensive history of ballooning, Fonvielle instead provides accounts of some of the most famous people and events in the previous century of aerostation. The work is illustrated with 40 plates depicting scenes, portraits, and flying machines from the narrative.

The next year, an English translation was made by John Scott Keltie with the approval and help of Fonvielle, and James Glaisher revised the proofs.


Remy de Gourmont. En ballon. Paris: Librairie Générale de Vulgarisation, 1884.

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A history of the highlights of aerostation in France, ending with a chapter on the latest developments with electric motors and the experiments that Gaston Tissandier has been performing in the hopes of finally creating a dirigible balloon. Remy de Gourmont also mentions the recent celebration of the centenary of aerostation in Annonay, held by descendents of the Montgolfiers.


And one small 20th-Century History

Toby Smith. Skyborne: a Ballooning Baedeker. Dallas: Somesuch Press, 1985.

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A miniature book, illustrated with five commemorative postage stamps, that gives a history of ballooning and the practice of ballooning today. Describes the International Balloon Fiesta held in Albuquerque, New Mexico every fall.


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