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History of Ballooning

History of Ballooning

The Montgolfier brothers began experimenting with hot air in the late 1700s in France. Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier put conical paper wrappings from bread loaves into the fireplace and watched them fill with hot air and float up the chimney.

From there, the Montgolfier brothers continued to experiment. On June 4, 1783, in the town of Annonay, Etienne and Joseph launched a balloon for the public. The balloon was 35 feet in diameter and weighed about 500 pounds. It rose to 6,000 feet, floated for 10 minutes and flew 1 1/2 miles.

On September 19, 1783, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette witnessed the first manned hot air balloon flight. The balloon carried a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. The balloon ascended to 1,700 feet, flew for eight minutes, and landed two miles away. The spectators were pleased to learn that all animals were unharmed upon landing.* At the time, it was thought that poisonous gasses filled the air.

On November 21,1783, Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis d'Arlandes flew from the Revillon's Gardens of Chateau La Muette. They flew for 25 minutes at low altitudes. Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Ambassador to France, was present to see this flight.

Ballooning came to the United States in 1793 when on January 9, Jean Pierre Blanchard flew from the Walnut Street Prison Yard in Philadelphia to Woodbury, New Jersey. The flight was 9 miles and took 46 minutes. Blanchard carried with him a few letters and this flight is considered to be the first air mail voyage.

There was one problem that was encountered by nearly all balloon pilots. When they landed in farmers' fields, hoards of spectators would trample the farmers' crops. Farmers reacted by pitch-forking the balloons. Balloonists soon realized that hot air ballooning was an expensive sport. They were getting only one flight per balloon. So they decided to carry champagne on each flight. When they landed, they would hold up the bottle of champagne and have a party.

Ballooning later went to Ireland. And the Irish added a prayer. It goes something like this...

Prayer of the Balloonists'
Anonymous. End of the XVIII century.

The Winds have welcomed us with softness
The Sun has blessed us with his warm hands
We have flown so high and so well
That God has joined us in our laughter
And He has set us gently back again
Into the loving arms of Mother Earth

*One account says the sheep kicked the duck and broke its wing.

The Local History of Ballooning

A curious, yet intriguing story found in John Blair Linn’s 1883 History of Centre and Clinton Counties, tells the tale of a beautiful young aeronaut named Lizzie Ihling, and her celebrated visit to Centre County. Linn’s story includes Miss Ihling’s observations of Bellefonte and the County, as viewed from a hot air balloon.

Lizzie Ihling made two balloon ascensions, on October 4 and 5, 1876, during the celebration for the Centennial Fair of the Centre County Agricultural Society. She had been invited by members of the Agricultural Society’s executive committee, since balloon ascensions at such events were very popular and would, in all likelihood, draw a sizeable crowd to the fair. The Democratic Watchman reported:

A balloon ascension at any time is attractive, but when made by a beautiful and accomplished young lady it becomes fascinating -- at least to the young men, while the young ladies will be compelled, in sheer self-defense, to turn out en masse, in order to prevent their “gentlemen friends” from becoming too enthusiastic in their admiration of the gay young aeronaut.

Articles ran in the Democratic Watchman for several weeks before Ihling’s arrival. This coverage indicates the anticipation and excitement surrounding Ihling’s arrival. Indeed, the turnout was quite impressive for her first ascension, as some 2500 spectators were reported to arrive at the fair in order to witness the impressive voyage. Ihling embarked on her journey in her hot air balloon, “The Amazon.” For the event, she was reportedly dressed as the goddess of liberty. Ihling’s uncle, Professor John Wise of Lancaster County, accompanied her to the fair and supervised her. Professor Wise was himself a well-known and accomplished air voyager. He modestly described himself as “the world-renowned astronaut who has more voyages through the Heavens than any other man.”

Ihling’s written accounts of her observations during her aerial journeys have been preserved and allow for not only a fascinating glimpse of the countryside seen from the air but also an account of the adventurous spirit of this young lady. During her first ascension, Ihling wrote:

I started up at 2 pm, with ascending force sufficient to elevate me 3500 feet by the time I reached a point centrally over the town of Bellefonte. From there the view was grand. The amphitheater form of the fair ground had changed into a sort of galleried terrace, with here and there clusters of spectators, whilst the pit from whence I started, looked in one place like a beehive -- the bees all clustered up in a bunch. I saw the two carriages scampering through the town in pursuit of me, and it made me laugh aloud to myself at the lilliputs hurrying up their tiny vehicles with horses as large as Newfoundland dogs. The town of Bellefonte looked so compactly built that there appeared to be too little room for the locomotives and teams to wriggle through its thoroughfares, unless they were of diminutive size…

Ihling’s written account of her second flight:

I started at three o-clock five minutes, thermometer sixty degrees. Five minutes it took me to get in the thick clouds that overhung the earth like a pall. I heard shouting all round below, clear down to Milesburg, the balloon moving in that direction as it entered the cloud. My barometer marked two thousand five hundred feet.

Presently I heard quite distinctly the tinkling of a cow-bell, and, supposing I had crossed over to Bald Eagle valley, I came down gradually. When I came out of the cloud I found myself right above the mountain-top and again the shouting of the people reached my ears. I sailed along the line of the back for nearly half an hour, hoping to drift on one side or the other, but the “Amazon” plodded her weary way right along this highway, and again I went up into and above the layer of cloud until I reached the sunshine at the height of four thousand feet. Here was a new scene. There was a mountain and a valley in the cloud surface, and presently the “Amazon” drifted to the cloud-valley, and I opened the valve to come down again below the clouds to look for a clear spot to light on.

I found myself moving for Curtin’s works, and at four o-clock and five minutes I landed on Mr. Austin Curtin’s far, where I was surrounded by many people. I was surprised to see Mr. Curtin, as I had seen him near me at the start, and then again I saw Mr. E. Foster and Professor Wise coming up, who started with a coach from the fair-ground when I did, but when I found that I was not more than five miles from Bellefonte my surprise was over.