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“Figure and Exact Proportions of the ‘Aerostatic Globe,’ Which was the First to Carry Men Through the Air” (1786)

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The first manned hot air balloon was designed by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne, in collaboration with the wallpaper manufacturer Jean-Baptiste Réveillon. Its first manned untethered flight took place on November 21, 1783, carrying two passengers 5.5 miles over Paris in 25 minutes. Through the balloon had carried enough fuel for a much longer flight, the pilots landed as soon as they were over open countryside in order to prevent burning embers from the fire from engulfing the balloon. Believing that smoke contained the factor that provided hot air with its buoyancy, Joseph-Michel had preferred smoldering fuel.

This contemporary etching is one the finest to commemorate the event. It provides engineering data in pre-revolutionary French units, followed by a description of the balloon’s lavish ornamentation. It reads: “The top portion was surrounded by fleurs-de-lys, with the twelve zodiac signs below. In the middle portion were images of the king’s face, each surrounded by a sun. The bottom section was filled with mascarons and garlands; Several eagle’s wings appear to support this powerful machine in the air. All of this ornamentation was gold on a beautiful blue background, so that that this superb globe appeared to be gold and azure. The circular gallery, in which we see the Marquis D’Arlandes and Mr. Pilatre de Rozier, was covered in crimson draperies with gold fringes.”

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