The 18th Century’s First Fatal Balloon Accident

First Ascension in a Free Balloon by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes, Courtesy of mheu.org
First Ascension in a Free Balloon by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes, Courtesy of mheu.org

The first idea of a balloon being filled with hydrogen was made by Joseph Black, a nineteenth century Scottish physician and chemist. His idea later helped to bring about the first recorded manned flight made by the Montgolfier brothers on 21 November 1783. This flight left from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne with pilots, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, and covered about 5½ miles in 25 minutes.

Rozier decided to leave the ground again on 23 June 1784. This time he was accompanied by Joseph Proust, an actor and a French chemist. The June flight involved a modified version of the Montgolfier brothers’s first balloon, and it was christened La Marie-Antoinette after the French Queen. The balloon took off in front of the King of France and King Gustav III of Sweden. It flew north at an altitude of approximately 1.8 miles and traveled over 32 miles in 45 minutes. The cold and turbulence forced the balloonists to descend just past Luzarches, which is near the Chantilly forest. However, the flight was still amazing because it set records for speed, altitude, and distance traveled. Continue reading

Robert Brothers and the First Balloon Flight of Over 100km

Robert brothers
September 1784 Flight Lifting Off From the Gardens of Tuileries, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

The first flight of more than 100 km (about 63 miles) took place on Sunday, 19 September 1784. It was conducted by two brothers — Anne-Jean Robert and Nicolas-Louis Robert — known collectively as Les Frères Robert (Robert brothers). Their aerostatic experiment, as it was called, launched from the royal gardens of the Tuileries Palace. It was a widely acclaimed event and attended by thousands of spectators. One report about the event was published in the Derby Mercury on 30 September 1784 and titled, “Paris Intelligence. Areostation.” The article is provided below, almost verbatim.

The third aerostatic experiment of the brothers Robert, … was attended with complete success. Mons. Vallet, to whom the brothers committed the charge of filling the Globe, began the business on Saturday afternoon. He employed new apparatus, constructed on the most ingenious and simple principles; by means of which the balloon was amply filled in three hours. The operation would not have required more than an hour and a half, if the workmen had been accustomed to the new method. Continue reading

The Montgolfier’s Balloon Monster

Montgolfier's Balloon Monster: The Montgolfier Brothers, Public Domain
The Montgolfier Brothers, Public Domain

In the 1600s, Pierre Francois Lana, a Jesuit priest, published a book with an engraving of an air balloon, and although Lana could not achieve an aerial voyage, his engraving caused a stir and “seized upon men’s minds.” Among those seized by the idea of an aerial balloon were two brothers, rich paper manufacturers named Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. In fact, the Montgolfier brothers were so interested, the object of their lives soon became to “perfect Lana’s rude conception and to find some means by which the balloon could ascend aloft and penetrate the vast region of cloudland.” Continue reading

French Diligence and Its Drivers

French diligence and its drivers
Thomas Rowlandson’s The Paris Diligence, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the early 1800s, one gentleman decided to travel to France “to gratify the wish of [his] Father, who was desirous to know the real state of the people of France, and especially of the farmers and labourers.” French coaches and coachmen were different in several ways from English coaches and coachmen, and during his visit, the gentleman came upon a diligence (a form of public conveyance equivalent to the English stage coach). He described the French diligence and its drivers, as well as two outriders (escorts). His remarks follow: Continue reading

Diligence Travelers

French diligence
Thomas Rowlandson’s The Paris Diligence, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The French diligence coach was a Frenchman’s main public conveyance. Some people thought it equivalent to its English counterpart, the stage coach. One writer claimed that the diligence coach was “a huge, heavy, lofty, lumbering machine, something between an English stage and a broad-wheeled waggon.” English stage-coaches were equipped with two qualities of seating — inside and outside — whereas the French diligence coach in comparison had four sections, with three — the coupe, the interieur, the rotonde — essentially joined together forming the inside and the banquette on top above the coupe. That may have been partly why the French diligence was soon found from Austria to Russia and from Italy to Holland. Because of the French diligence’s prevalence, many nineteenth century travelers rode in them and offered opinions about their experience. Continue reading

Diligence Coach

Traveling in France in a diligence coach, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Traveling in France, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The diligence coach was a Frenchman’s main public conveyance. It was equivalent to its English counterpart, the stage coach. It falls into the category of a traveling coach and was used in the 1700 and 1800s to travel long distances throughout continental Europe. It was a solidly-built coach pulled by four or more horses. One early description of the diligence coach stated that “the body of the carriage rests upon large thongs of leather, fastened to heavy blocks of wood, instead of springs, and the whole is drawn by seven horses.” Eventually, however, diligence coaches traveling between Paris and Lyons were the first to be “fitted with springs.”

The diligence coach also traveled at six or seven miles an hour, and how they traveled that quickly is amazing as the diligence was usually laden down with people and luggage:

Upon the roof, on the outside, is the imperial, which is generally filled with six or seven persons more, and a heap of luggage, which latter also occupies the basket, and generally presents a pile, half as high again as the coach, which is secured by ropes and chains, tightened by a large iron windlass, which also constitutes another appendage of this moving mass.

To drive the moving mass and steer the horses, the coachman’s spot was described as “every where — sometimes on the dickey — then on the top — then on one of the wheel-horses; and, in going up hill, two or three rods behind the diligence.” That was partly because early diligence coaches placed the coachman’s perch well behind the rear axles. Continue reading

The Bicycle

Draisienne, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Draisienne, Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is controversy over who invented the bicycle. Some people claim it was a French carriage maker and blacksmith named Pierre Michaux. Other people assert it was Michaux’s son, Ernest. Still other people maintain it was not Michaux or his son, but rather another Frenchman entirely. His name was Pierre Lallement and he lived near Nancy, France, in 1862 and repaired baby carriages. Thus, because of the disagreements over who invented the bicycle, Pierre Michaux, his son Ernest, and Lallement, have all at one time or another been called the “father of the bicycle.” Continue reading