George Cayley
Felix du Temple
balloons and airships
Clément Ader
Jean-Marie Le Bris
Butler and Edwards
Jules Henri Giffard
Lawrence Hargrave
Etienne-Jules Marey
Thomas William Moy
Alexandr Mozhaisky
Charles Renard
Victor Tatin
Nikolaj Teleshov
Thomas Walker
John Wise
Richard Pearse
Henson and Stringfellow
Alphonse Penaud
Francis Wenham
Otto Lilienthal
Pilcher and Chanute
Samuel Langley
Horatio Phillips
was Herring the first to fly?

Balloons and Airships of the Nineteenth Century 

Following the flight of the Montgolfier in 1783, ballooning advanced throughout the 1800s, becoming popular worldwide by mid-century. Jean-Pierre Blanchard, unsuccessful in his ornithopter attempts, became famous for his balloon flights all over Europe and in America. He and John Jeffries, a Boston physician, crossed the English Channel on January 7, 1785, and Blanchard conducted an exhibition ascent in Philadelphia in 1793, with George Washington in attendance.

He  trained the first American balloonist, John Wise, who in turn trained many others and engendered enthusiasm for ballooning in the United States. Blanchard also conducted spectacular parachute experiments from his balloons; he died in a fall in 1809. One of John Wise’s students, Thaddeus Lowe, provided four balloons for the Union Army during the Civil War, and at critical points there was direct telegraph communication between the balloons and the White House. A balloonist alerted the Union of Lee’s breaking camp in Rappahannock and setting out for Gettysburg. The Confederacy realized the usefulness of balloon reconnaissance and attempted to put together a program, but did not succeed in time to be effective.

 The English Channel crossing by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries marked the beginning of the Channel’s place in aviation history and inspired the development of balloon-propeller systems.

Back in France, Felix Tournachon (also known as Nadar) developed the art of aerial photography from a balloon, at one point placing an entire photographic laboratory on board his huge balloon, Le Géant, in 1863. Nadar is also remembered for heroically ballooning mail and passengers out of Paris during the siege of 1870. The nineteenth century ended with the ill-fated attempt by Salomon August Andree and two associates, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel, to balloon across the North Pole.

The trio set out from the island of Spitzbergen on July 11, 1897; they soon drifted into the fog and vanished. In 1930, a Norwegian expedition discovered their frozen bodies, Andree’s journal, and even some photographic plates. The balloon had crashed in the frozen wastes and all three explorers died trying to walk back to civilization. The advantage of placing a propelling mechanism on a balloon, making it capable of controlled, directed flight, was immediately apparent to everyone, and many designs came off the drawing boards of nineteenth- century engineers, including George Cayley.

The first successful flight of a steerable airship—or “dirigible”—occurred on  September 24, 1852, in Paris, with Henri Giffard using a cigar-shaped, hydrogen-filled balloon driven by a 3-horse-power steam engine and using a design inspired by Cayley and others. The average speed for the flight was only 5 miles (8km) per hour, and the craft was clearly carried much of the way by the wind, but the day is often cited as the date of the first practical conquest of the skies.

The first observation balloons in the Civil War were constructed by Thaddeus  Lowe at Fair Oaks, Virginia. This 1862 Mathew Brady photograph shows Lowe, the dark figure to the right of the balloon, checking the ropes.

Count von Zeppelin and the LZ4 were the pride of Germany. The vehicle’s destruction during an attempt at an endurance record actually helped put the count’s company on a sound financial footing.

By the late 1880s, many successful dirigible flights had taken place and serious thought was being given to using the airship as a means of transportation, particularly in Germany. Two experimental models, one using a gasoline engine and the other covered with a thin layer of alu minium sheeting, crashed during test flights in 1897. But Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a German army general who witnessed the use of balloons in the American Civil War and followed airship research for the next thirty years, created his own company in 1893 and with his chief engineer, Ludwig Durr, was preparing to test a 420-foot (12 8m) long airship as a first step in creating a fleet of ships capable of transporting sizable numbers of people.

The close of the nineteenth century also saw the arrival on the French aviation scene of a diminutive Brazilian, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who would become one in the most colourful figures of the early years of modern flight.