Up, Up and Away
“Despite the difficulties that a high-volume balloon presents to aerial navigators, one must resort to them. […] Heavier-than-air craft may be the systems of the future, but elongated airships equipped with propellers are undoubtedly the aerial vehicles of the present.”
Tissandier, Gaston, Histoire de mes ascensions (The Story of My Ascensions), p. XXIII
Aeronautics had captured the public’s imagination by the 18th century. After the first manned, untethered flights, made by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Montgolfier brothers,
improvements to flying machines intrigued and fascinated scientists and the public alike.
Illustrated binding for La navigation aérienne : histoire documentaire et anecdotique
(Aerial Navigation: A Documented and Anecdotal History), Joseph Louis Lecornu, 1903.
The first electric dirigible aerostat airship, in 1883, and a view of its gondola basket, in Histoire de mes ascensions
(The Story of My Ascensions), Gaston Tissandier, 1890.
Expérience du ballon dirigeable de M. Santos-Dumont (19 septembre 1900). @ Institut Lumière
Henri Giffard tested the first dirigible in 1852: it was a big, long balloon, powered by a steam engine, that could be steered with the help of a rudder.
Gaston Tissandier, a great admirer of Giffard, later contributed to building the world’s first electric steerable airship, or blimp, in 1883.
The famous photographer Nadar, a passionate fan of aerostation, or lighter-than-air aircraft, took advantage of the new possibilities offered by the aircraft to broaden photography’s horizons. In October, 1858, he filed a patent for an “aerostatic photography system.”
His balloon, “Le Géant” (The Giant) was displayed on Paris’s Champ de Mars (where the Eiffel Tower now stands) as it was being prepared for its second ascension.
The public was fascinated by these craft, which they were able to see up close at traveling exhibits, where they could often even climb into them.
World’s Fairs were also excellent opportunities for presenting them: at the 1867 Fair in Paris, Henri Giffard became the first to propose tethered balloon rides. Carrying up to two dozen passengers at a time, the balloons rose a thousand feet in the air.
Portrait of Gaston Tissandier, Nadar studio, circa 1910.