Indiana University Bloomington

Conquest of the Skies: A History of Ballooning
Zambeccari article

Periodical Literature

The earliest accounts of the aerostatic experiments that were taking place were in the many newspapers and magazines published at the time. Spectators or often the aeronauts themselves wrote letters to the editors, describing the latest voyage and offering the true account. In Paris, the primary newspaper was the Journal de Paris, but in London many different publications printed accounts and debates and letters, offering a glimpse into the minds of the public who were watching the creation of a new science right before their eyes.

 Town and Country
Town and Country Magazine or, Universal repository of knowledge, instruction, and entertainment. 1783 supplement.

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The Town and Country Magazine had a popular serial feature called “The Man of Pleasure,” and readers could write in on various topics suitable to the theme.

A reader wrote in to “The Man of Pleasure” on his return from Paris to describe the recent balloon launch at Versailles (29 September 1783). This “exact account” was confused on several issues, namely in stating that the balloon was filled with inflammable air, and in neglecting to mention the rooster and the duck that made the ascent along with the sheep. In the same issue, someone writes a heavily satirical proposal for the need of the government to enact new taxes on “these light carriages,” since no one will be using stage-coaches anymore. He proposes a few of the taxes, such as “An air balloon going to Gretna Green with a couple of fond lovers – 5l. 5s.; Ditto carrying more than two voters for a rotten borough – 10l. 10s.; Ditto going to Constantinople with female recruits for the seraglio – 21l.” and so on.


 Town and Country
Town and Country Magazine or, Universal repository of knowledge, instruction, and entertainment. September 1784.

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On 15 September 1784, Lunardi made his first ascent in England. That month’s Town and Country Magazine featured an “authentic account” written by one of the spectators to the editor of the magazine.


 Town and Country
Town and Country Magazine or, Universal repository of knowledge, instruction, and entertainment. March 1785.

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A year and a half after the balloon craze had begun in England, the author of this letter to the editor is amazed that it is still going. He proposes the creation of new insurance policies “on the lives, nerves, and future faculties of each adventurer in this aerostatic machine.” He apparently thinks most adventurers already tend toward lunacy.


 European Magazine

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This issue gives a brief biography of Jean-Pierre Blanchard and his exploits in England. Blanchard had by this time already gone back to France, as his plans to open an Aerostatic Academy near Vauxhall had fallen through.


New London Magazine

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This issue for August prints articles about both Blanchard and Lunardi, the latter of whom was still in England. In the same issue, a reader proposes a means of directing balloons using a large fan.

The October issue gives an account of “Mrs. Sage, the first Female Aerial Traveller,” who, together with Mr. Biggin, planned to ascend with Lunardi on 29 June 1785. Finding the weight of the three travelers to be too much, however, Lunardi got out of the car and let the two others go up alone.

The December issue gives accounts of the unsuccessful Mr. Arnold and “the first English Aerostatist,” Mr. Sadler.


 Entertaining Magazine

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The July 1813 issue contained the article “The Flying Philosopher,” in which was translated a plan written by a Frenchman for the construction of wings that would allow for human flight. The August issue ventures to translate an article from a German journal of arts and sciences on the Walking Philosopher, who has a balloon above his head to make him lighter for walking and small oars at his waist to aid his motion. The editors are not convinced: “For our own parts, being of British birth—and Philosophers, if so we may be permitted to call ourselves, rather of the old than the new school—we cannot, with genuine German gravity, seriously advocate the practice.”

Each article is accompanied by a sketch of the invention in use.


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