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Practical Science Series 

The following Vols, are now ready or in the Press : — 

By Gertrude Bacon. 

MOTORS AND MOTORING. By Professor Harry 

RADIUM. By Dr. Hampson. 

METEOROLOGY; or, Weather Explained. By J. 
Gordon MTherson, M.A., LL.D. 

Others in Preparation 

'? 1 2 1984 







J H629.13 
c. 2 

The Authoress, her Father, and Mr. Spencer 
making an ascent. 
















MENT 6 ? 





Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 




One November night in the year 1782, so the 
story runs, two brothers sat over their winter 
fire in the little French town of Annonay, 
watching the grey smoke-wreaths from the 
hearth curl up the wide chimney. Their names 
were Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, they 
were papermakers by trade, and were noted 
as possessing thoughtful minds and a deep 
interest in all scientific knowledge and new 
discovery. Before that night — a memor- 
able night, as it was to prove — hundreds of 
millions of people had watched the rising 
smoke-wreaths of their fires without drawing 
any special inspiration from the fact ; but 
on this particular occasion, as Stephen, the 
younger of the brothers, sat and gazed at the 
familiar sight, the question flashed across his 
mind, " What is the hidden power that makes 
those curling smoke-wreaths rise upwards, and 


could I not employ it to make other things 
rise also ? " 

Then and there the brothers resolved on an 

Medallion showing Bkothees Montgolfier. 

experiment. They made themselves a small 
fire of some light fuel in a little. tin tray or 
chafing-dish, and over the smoke of it they 
held a large paper-bag. And to their delight 
they saw the bag fill out and make a feeble 


attempt to rise. They were surely on the 
eve of some great invention ; and yet, try as 
they would, their experiment would not quite 
succeed, because the smoke in the bag always 
became too cool before there was enough in it 
to raise it from the table. But presently, 
while they were thus engaged, a neighbour of 
theirs, a widow lady, alarmed by seeing smoke 
issuing from their window, entered the room, 
and after watching their fruitless efforts for 
some while, suggested that they should fasten 
the tray on to the bottom of the bag. This 
was done, with the happy result that the bag 
immediately rose up to the ceiling ; and in 
this humble fashion the first of all balloons 
sailed aloft. 

That night of 1782, therefore, marks the first 
great step ever made towards the conquest of 
the sky. But to better understand the history 
of " Aeronautics " — a word that means " the 
sailing of the air " — we must go back far be- 
yond the days of the Montgolfier brothers. 
For in all times and in all ages men have 
wanted to fly. David wished for the wings 
of a dove to fly away and be at rest, and since 
his time, and before it, how many have not 
longed to take flight and sail away in the 
boundless, glorious realms above, to explore 
the fleecy clouds, and to float free in the blue 
vault of heaven. 

And since birds achieve this feat by means 
of wings, man's first idea was to provide him- 


self with wings also. But here he was at once 
doomed to disappointment. It is very certain 
that by his own natural strength alone a man 
will never propel himself through the air with 
wings like a bird, because he is made quite 
differently. A bird's body is very light com- 
pared with its size. The largest birds in 
existence weigh under thirty pounds. A 
man's body, on the contrary, is very heavy 
and solid. The muscles that work a bird's 
wing are wonderfully powerful and strong, far 
stronger in proportion than the muscles of a 
man's arm. To sustain his great weight in 
the air, a man of eleven stone would require a 
pair of wings nearly twenty feet in span. 
But the possession of such mighty wings 
alone is not enough. He must also possess 
bodily strength to keep them in sufficient 
motion to prevent him from falling, and for 
this he would require at least the strength of 
a horse. 

Such strength a man has never possessed, or 
can ever hope to ; but even as it is, by long 
practice and great effort, men have succeeded 
at different times, not exactly in flying, but 
in helping themselves along considerably by 
means of wings. A man is said to have flown 
in this way in Rome in the days of Nero. A 
monk in the Middle Ages, named Elmerus, 
it is stated, flew about a furlong from the top 
of a tower in Spain, another from St. Mark's 
steeple in Venice, and another from Nurem- 


burg. But the most successful attempt ever 
made in this direction was accomplished about 
200 years ago by a French locksmith of the 
name of Besnier. He had made for himself a 
pair of light wooden oars, shaped like the 
double paddle of a canoe, with cup-like blades 
at either end. These he placed over his 
shoulders, and attached also to his feet, and 

Besnier and his Oars. 

then casting himself off from some high place, 
and violently working his arms and legs so as 
to buffet the air downwards with his paddles, 
he was able to raise himself by short stages 
from one height to another, or skim lightly 
over a field or river. It is said that subse- 
quently Besnier sold his oars to a mountebank, 
who performed most successfully with them 
at fairs and festivals. 

But it was soon clear that the art of human 


flight was not to be achieved by such means ; 
and when men found that they were unable to 
soar upwards by their own bodily strength 
alone, they set about devising some apparatus 
or machine which should carry them aloft. 
Many ancient philosophers bent their minds 
to the inventing of a machine for this purpose. 
One suggested that strong flying birds, such 
as eagles or vultures, might be harnessed to 
a car, and trained to carry it into the sky. 
Another gravely proposed the employment of 
" a little imp " — for in those days the existence 
of imps and demons was most firmly believed 
in. A third even went so far as to give an 
actual recipe for flying, declaring that " if the 
eggs of the larger description of swans, or 
leather balls stitched with fine thongs, be filled 
with nitre, the purest sulphur, quicksilver, 
or kindred materials which rarefy by their 
caloric energy, and if they externally resemble 
pigeons, they will easily be mistaken for flying 
animals." (!) 

The first man who appeared to have any 
inkling of the real way of solving the problem 
of a " flying chariot," and who in dim fashion 
seems to have foreshadowed the invention of 
the balloon, was that wonderful genius, Roger 
Bacon, the Learned Friar of Ilchester, the 
inventor or re-inventor of gunpowder, who 
lived in the thirteenth century. He had an 
idea — an idea which was far ahead of his 
times, and only proved to be true hundreds 


of years after — that the earth's atmosphere 
was an actual substance or "true fluid," and 
as such he supposed it to have an upper 
surface as the sea has, and on this upper sur- 
face he thought an airship might float, even 
as a boat floats on the top of the water. 
And to make his airship rise upwards to 
reach this upper sea, he said one must employ 
" a large hollow globe of copper or other 
similar metal wrought extremely thin, to have 
it as light as possible, and filled with ethereal 
air or liquid fire." 

It is doubtful whether Bacon had very clear 
ideas of what he meant by "ethereal air." 
But, whether by accident or insight, he had in 
these words hit upon the true principle of the 
balloon — a principle only put into practice five 
centuries later. He saw that a body would 
rise upwards through the air if it were filled 
with something fighter than air, even as a 
body will rise upwards through the water if it 
is made of, or filled with, something lighter 
than water. We know that if we throw an 
empty bottle tightly corked into the sea it 
does not sink, but rises upwards, because it is 
filled with air, which is lighter than water. 
In the same way exactly a light bag or balloon 
which is filled with some gas which is lighter 
than air will not stay on the surface of the 
ground, but will rise upwards into the sky to 
a height which depends upon its weight and 


Later philosophers than Bacon came to the 
same conclusion, though they do not seem to 
have seen matters more clearly. As recently 
as 1755 a certain learned French priest actually 
suggested that since the air on the top of high 
mountains is known to be lighter than that at 
an ordinary level, men might ascend to these 
great heights and bring down the light air " in 
constructions of canvas or cotton." By means 
of this air he then proposed to fly a great 
machine, which he describes, and which seems 
to have been as large and cumbersome as 
Noah's Ark. Needless to say, the worthy 
Father's proposal has never yet been put into 

But it is time now that we return to the 
two brothers Montgolfier and their paper-bag 
of smoke. Their experiments proved at once 
that in smoke they had found something 
which was lighter than air, and which would, 
therefore, carry a light weight upwards. But 
of what this something was they had, at the 
time, but a confused idea. They imagined 
that the burning fuel they had used had given 
off some special light gas, with the exact nature 
of which they were unacquainted. The very 
word gas, be it here said, was in those days 
almost unknown, and of different gases, their 
nature and properties, most people had but 
the very vaguest notions. 

And so for some time the Montgolfiers 
and their followers supposed that the presence 


of this mysterious gas was necessary to the 
success of their experiments, and they were 
very careful about always using special kinds 
of fuel, which they supposed gave off this gas, 
to inflate their bags. Later experiments 
proved, however, what every one now knows, 
that the paper -bag rose, not because of the 
gases given off by the fire, but by reason of 
the hot air with which it became filled. Nearly 
all substances, no matter how solid, expand 
more or less under the influence of heat, and 
air expands very greatly indeed. By thus 
expanding heated air becomes lighter than 
the surrounding air, and, because it is lighter, 
rises upwards in the atmosphere, and continues 
to rise until it has once more regained the 
average temperature. 

Encouraged by the success of their first 
humble experiment, the Montgolfiers next 
tried their paper-bag in the open air, when 
to their delight it sailed upwards to a height 
of 70 feet. The next step was to make a 
much larger craft of 600 cubic feet capacity 
and spherical in shape, which they called a 
" Balloon," because it was in appearance like 
a large, round, short-necked vessel used in 
chemistry which was technically known by 
that name. This great bag, after being in- 
flated, became so powerful that it broke loose 
from its moorings, and floated proudly up- 
wards 600 feet and more, and came down 
in an adjoining field. After a few more suc- 


Montgolfiek's Balloon. 


cessful trials the brothers thought that the 
time had come to make known their .new 
invention. Accordingly they constructed a 
great balloon of 35 feet in diameter, and 
issued invitations to the public to come and 
see the inflation. This was successfully made 
over a fire of chopped straw and wool, and 
the giant rose up into the sky amid the 
deafening applause of a huge multitude, and 
after attaining a height of 7000 feet, fell to 
the ground a mile and a half away. 

The news of this marvellous event spread 
like wild-fire throughout the kingdom, and 
soon not only all France, but all Europe also, 
was ringing with the tidings. The French 
Royal Academy of Sciences immediately 
invited Stephen Montgolfier to Paris, and 
provided him with money to repeat his 
experiment. He accordingly constructed a 
yet larger machine, which stood no less than 
72 feet high, had it most magnificently 
painted and decorated and hung with flags, 
and sent it up at Versailles in the presence 
of the King and all his court. 

This particular balloon is noteworthy as 
having been the first of all balloons to carry 
living passengers into the air. They were 
three in number, a sheep, a cock, and a duck. 
Breathlessly the assembled multitude watched 
these innocent victims placed in the basket 
and soar calmly and majestically above their 
heads ; and eagerly they followed the balloon 


to where it fell half a mile away to learn 
their fate. Would they have been suffocated 
in those upper regions of the air which no 
human being had yet explored, or would they 
be dashed to pieces in the descent? But 
they found the trio quite uninjured ; the 
unimaginative sheep grazing quietly, and the 
duck cheerfully quacking. Forthwith the cry 
then arose that it was time for a man to 
hazard the ascent, and King Louis, who, like 
every one else, was vastly excited over the 
wonder, suggested that two criminals then 
lying under sentence of death should be sent 

But now a brave French gentleman — M. 
Pilatre de Rozier, a name ever to be remem- 
bered in the history of the conquest of the air 
— uprose in indignation. " Shall vile criminals 
have the first glory of rising into the sky ! " 
he cried, and then and there he proudly 
claimed for himself the honour of being first 
among mortals in the history of the world 
to sail the air. His courageous resolve was 
wildly applauded, and forthwith preparations 
were commenced for the new venture. A 
yet larger balloon was made, in height as 
tall as a church tower, with a mouth 15 feet 
across. Around the mouth was fastened a 
gallery of wicker-work, three feet wide, to hold 
the passengers, and below all was slung with 
chains an iron brazier of burning fuel. 

By way of precaution, when all was com- 


plete De Rozier made a few short captive 
excursions, the balloon being fastened to 
earth by a rope. But all proving satisfactory, 
he decided to hazard a " right away " trip on 
the 21st of November 1783, when he was also 
to be accompanied by an equally courageous 
fellow-countryman, the Marquis d'Arlandes. 
It would be difficult to conceive a more daring 
and perilous enterprise than these two brave 
Frenchmen set themselves. They were to 
venture, by an untried way, into unknown 
realms where no mortal had been before ; 
they were to entrust their lives to a frail 
craft whose capabilities had never yet been 
tested, and at a giddy height they were to 
soar aloft with an open fire, which at any 
moment might set light to the inflammable 
balloon and hurl them to destruction. 

Wild indeed was the applause of the crowd 
as the mighty craft, after due inflation, rose 
majestically into the sky, carrying with it its 
two brave voyagers — 

the first that ever burst 
Into that silent sea ; 

and with what anxiety was its course followed 
as, rising rapidly to a height of 3000 feet, it 
drifted away on an upper current which bore 
it right over the city of Paris. The travellers 
themselves experienced various excitements 
during their adventurous trip. They had 
constantly to stir the fire and feed it with 



fresh fuel ; they had also with wet sponges 
continually to extinguish the flames when 
the light fabric from time to time ignited. 
At one period they feared descending into 
the river or on the house-tops, at another 
a sharp shock gave them the impression that 

An Early Hydrogen Balloon. 

their balloon had burst. But they came 
safely in the end through all perils and 
alarms, descending quietly, after a voyage 
of twenty-five minutes' duration, five miles 
from their starting-place. 

Thus was invented and perfected in the 
course of less than a year the first of all craft 


which carried man into the sky — the Hot- 
Air or Montgolfier Balloon. To this day large 
hot-air balloons inflated by the same methods 
employed a hundred years ago occasionally 
take passengers aloft. Indeed, there now 
seems a likelihood that the use of the Mont- 
golfier balloon will be largely revived for 
military purposes, since, with modern im- 
provements, it would appear to be more 
quickly and easily inflated than a gas balloon 
in time of warfare. With miniature hot-air 
balloons we are all familiar, for every school- 
boy has made them for himself of coloured 
papers, and watched them float away on the 
breeze with as much admiration and delight 
as the two brothers of Annonay watched their 
bag first float upwards to the ceiling. 

But almost before the invention of the hot- 
air balloon had been completed, and before 
Pilatre de Rozier had made his ascent, a rival 
craft had appeared upon the scene, to which 
we must more specially refer in the next 



During the time of which we are speaking 
there was living in London a famous chemist 
named Henry Cavendish. He was the son of 


a nobleman, and a very rich man; but he 
shut himself up entirely from the world, and 
devoted his whole time and energies to the 
study of science. So afraid was he of being 
interrupted in his work that he lived the life 
of a hermit, commanding his servants to keep 
out of his sight on pain of dismissal, and 
ordering his dinner daily by means of a 
note placed on the hall table. In the year 
1760 — twenty-two years before the Mont- 
golfier brothers began their experiments — this 
eccentric man had discovered what was then 
known as "inflammable air," but what we 
now call hydrogen gas. 

Cavendish's experiments proved that hydro- 
gen is the lightest of all known substances, 
being about fourteen times lighter than at- 
mospheric air ; and soon after he had made 
known his researches, it occurred to a certain 
Dr. Black of Edinburgh that if a sufficiently 
thin and light bladder were filled with this 
" inflammable air " it would rise upwards. 
Dr. Black even went so far as to order a 
special bladder to be prepared for the pur- 
pose; but by the time it was ready he was 
busy with other work, and the experiment 
was never made ; otherwise it is extremely 
probable that the honour of inventing the 
balloon would have been won for this country, 
and not for France. 

A little later Tiberius Cavallo, an Italian 
chemist living in England, came yet nearer 


to the great invention, for he filled a number 
of soap-bubbles with the newly discovered 
gas, and saw them float high into the air. 
He did not, however, think at the time that 
his experiments would lead to any practical 
result, and so the matter dropped entirely, 
until the world was suddenly electrified by 
the tidings of the wonderful hot-air balloon 
invented by the brothers Montgolfier at 

The news of this discovery recalled to the 
minds of many the almost forgotten experi- 
ments of the past, and it was forthwith sug- 
gested that balloons might be inflated with 
hydrogen gas more successfully than with 
hot air. It was resolved immediately to put 
this theory to the test. A large subscription 
to defray expenses was raised in Paris with- 
out difficulty, for men's minds were keen 
on the new-found art of sailing the sky ; 
and M. Charles, Professor of Experimental 
Philosophy, and two brothers, the Messrs. 
Roberts, well-known mechanicians, were 
appointed to construct a suitable balloon 
and inflate it by the new method. 

But they were immediately confronted with 
a difficulty. Hydrogen being the lightest 
and most subtle of gases, they were at a loss 
to know of what material to make their 
balloon, to prevent the gas escaping. After 
several failures they eventually constructed 
a bag of a special kind of silk, and coated 



it all over with a varnish made of indiarubber 
dissolved in turpentine. As they found great 
difficulty in manufacturing large quantities of 
hydrogen, they were forced to make their bag 
a comparatively small one, about thirteen feet 
in diameter. On the 25th of August 1783 

Attack on the Fikst Chaklier Balloon. 

the bag was successfully filled, and the ascent 
was made in Paris in the presence of an 
enormous crowd. The little balloon rose 
upwards with immense rapidity, until it was 
lost to sight in the clouds. Ascending yet 
higher, it presently burst, and came to the 
earth in a village, fifteen miles away, after 
a voyage of three-quarters of an hour. 


In the field where the balloon fell a party 
of peasants were at work ; at its approach 
they fled in abject terror. From a safe dis- 
tance they watched the strange new monster 
settle to earth and lie prone, and then they 
cautiously drew nearer to inspect it. The 
silk still heaved with the escaping gas, and 
the countrymen were fully convinced that 
an actual living creature of mysterious nature 
lay before them. One man seized his gun 
and fired full at it, and then supposing it 
to be mortally wounded, they all rushed in 
with flails and pitchforks to complete its 
destruction, finally tying it to the tail of a 
horse, who galloped with it all over the 
country, tearing it to shreds. It was small 
wonder that after such an occurrence the 
French Government issued a proclamation to 
the people, telling them that these aeronau- 
tical experiments were to be repeated, and 
warning them not to be alarmed if they saw 
a balloon in the air, since it was a perfectly 
harmless machine filled with gas, and incapable 
of injuring any one. 

This event took place about three months 
after the first public ascent of the hot-air 
balloon. The new craft was immediately 
called a " Charlier," after its inventor, and 
to distinguish it from the " Montgolfier." 
There followed various exhibitions of the 
rival airships, and after the voyage of Pilatre 
de Rozier and the Marquis D'Arlandes, 


Messrs. Charles and Roberts resolved also 
to hazard an ascent in a balloon inflated with 

A new machine was therefore constructed, 
which differed in many important details from 
all others which had previously been made. 
It was twenty-seven feet in diameter, of 
varnished silk, and over it was spread a net 
of cordage. Instead of a gallery to carry 
the passengers, as in the "Montgolfier," a car 
shaped like a boat was suspended from the 
net with ropes and hung a few feet below 
the balloon. A valve to let out the gas was 
also provided, and the voyagers carried in 
their car ballast and a barometer to indicate 
their height. It will thus be seen that this 
new balloon was in all practical details the 
same as the balloon of the present day. 

The ascent took place on the 17th of De- 
cember in Paris. Stephen Montgolfier was 
present, and launched a small hot-air balloon, 
which amused the onlookers and indicated 
the direction of the wind. Then MM. 
Charles and Roberts stepped into the car, 
and the balloon being liberated, they were 
immediately carried up to a height of 6000 
feet, where a glorious panorama of Paris and 
the adjacent country was spread out before 
their delighted vision. After staying aloft 
about a couple of hours they descended to 
earth again, and Roberts got out of the car. 
Charles decided to continue the voyage awhile 


by himself, and, lightened of his companion's 
weight, the balloon this time rose to 10,500 
feet. The sun had by this time set upon the 
earth, but at this height Charles saw it rise 
once more and set a second time. The ther- 
mometer fell far below freezing-point, and 
he was benumbed with cold and felt violent 
pains in his ears. When at his greatest ele- 
vation he was obliged to pull the valve to 
prevent the balloon from bursting, and even- 
tually descended without mischance about 
seven miles from where Roberts had left 

It would be well now to describe a little 
more fully the way in which the "Mont- 
golfier " and " Charlier " balloons were in- 
flated. Each of the rival methods had its 
advantages and also its disadvantages. In 
the case of the hot-air balloon a shallow pit 
was dug, in which a quick-burning fire of 
chopped wool and straw was lighted, and 
the bag simply suspended over it. The 
inflation was thus rapid, and its cost com- 
paratively small ; the great drawback being 
that as the bag was of very light material, 
it ran considerable risk of being ignited by 
the fire ; and all the while it was filling it 
was the uncomfortable duty of an unfortunate 
attendant to stand actually inside, roasted 
with the heat and choked with the smoke, 
armed with a paddle with which to beat out 
the flames whenever the bag caught alight. 



This danger of fire was done away with 
in the method of filling with hydrogen gas. 
The balloon, suspended from aloft as before, 
was connected by hose-pipes with a number 
of casks containing iron or zinc filings upon 
which dilute sulphuric acid was poured. The 

Filling a Hot Air Balloon. 

effect of mixing these substances together is 
to set up a brisk chemical action, in the course 
of which hydrogen gas is given off. In this 
case the hydrogen thus liberated came through 
the pipes and filled the balloon. The great dis- 
advantages of this method of filling — which, 
it may here be mentioned, is occasionally 
employed at the present day — are the long 
time it occupies, the great labour entailed, 
and the enormous expense. 






It is said that when Roberts and Charles 
returned from their adventurous voyage they 
were immediately arrested and thrown into 
prison by order of the King, who considered 
it his duty to put a stop to his subjects risk- 
ing their lives in such dangerous enterprises. 
Public opinion was too strong for him, how- 
ever, and the two heroes were quickly released, 
and Charles was rewarded by a pension of 
£200 a year for life. This newly discovered 
art of sailing the heavens had indeed fired 
popular imagination to an extraordinary de- 
gree. Probably no invention has ever aroused 
greater enthusiasm. Not only all France 
but all the civilised world went wild with 
excitement for the time. Most extravagant 
statements were made and written. A new 
kingdom, it was declared, had been given to 
mankind to conquer ; voyages might be made 
to the moon and stars, and now it would even 
be possible to take Heaven itself by storm ! 

Ascent after ascent took place with the 
"Montgolfier" and the " Charlier," both in 
France and in other countries ; nor was it 
long before the balloon made its appearance 
in England. In August of the next summer 
(1784) a Mr Tytler of Edinburgh made some 
short voyages in a hot-air balloon of his own 
manufacture, and in the following month a 
much more adventurous attempt was suc- 
cessfully carried out in London by a young 
Italian of the name of Vincent Lunardi. 



Lunardi was at this time secretary to the 
Neapolitan Ambassador. He was keenly 
interested in the subject of ballooning, and 
presently became fired with a desire to repeat 
in England those aerial experiments which 
were creating such a sensation on the Con- 
tinent. He was 
only a poor man, 
and great diffi- 
culties stood in 
the way of ac- 
complishing his 
object. He had 
to excite public 
interest in his 
venture, to col- 
lect subscriptions 
to defray the cost 
of his balloon, 
which was to be 
a " Charlier," and 
to find a suitable 
site in London 
for the inflation 

and ascent. He met with disappointments 
and disasters enough to discourage a less 
enthusiastic man, but at length, after many 
troubles, on the 15th of September his balloon 
was ready and in process of filling in the 
grounds of the Honourable Artillery Com- 
pany, in the city, where 150,000 people had 
assembled to witness the new wonder. 

Vincent Lunaedi. 


Still Lunardi's trials were not at an end. 
The balloon was advertised to ascend at a 
certain hour ; but the supply of gas was in- 
sufficient, so that when the time came it was 
only partially filled, and a long delay ensued. 
The vast crowd — more than half inclined to 
believe the whole thing an imposture — began 
to grow very impatient and unruly, and it was 
only the presence of the Prince of Wales, 
afterwards George the Fourth, which kept 
them in restraint for another hour while the 
filling continued. 

Even then the balloon was not full ; but 
Lunardi felt he could wait no longer. He 
left behind him the companion who was to 
have accompanied him, substituted a smaller 
and lighter car, jumped inside and severed the 
ropes. Instantly the balloon rose high over 
the delighted city, as the crowd, led by the 
Prince himself, rent the air with their cheers. 
Wild was the excitement in every quarter. 
At Westminster King George the Third was 
in conference with Mr. Pitt and his other chief 
Ministers of State, but when it was known 
that Lunardi was in the sky the King ex- 
claimed, " Gentlemen, we may resume our 
deliberations at pleasure, but we may never 
see poor Lunardi again ! " and with one accord 
they adjourned to watch his progress through 
telescopes. Tradesmen rushed out of their 
shops, business men from their offices, even 
judge and jury from their courts. 

Lunabdi's Balloon, 


Lunardi continued his voyage over the town 
into the country beyond. His balloon appar- 
ently attained a considerable height, for he 
found that the condensed moisture round the 
neck had frozen, and the gas, which to begin 
with had only two-thirds filled the balloon, 
presently expanded so much that he was 
obliged to untie the mouth to relieve the 
strain. He had taken up with him as com- 
panions a dog and a cat. The cat was very 
ill at ease in the cold of the upper regions, 
and he resolved to put her out ; so, coming 
down to the ground, he handed her to a country 
woman standing in a field. Throwing out 
ballast, he then rose again and continued his 
voyage for some distance, eventually descend- 
ing in a meadow near Ware. Some labourers 
were at work on the spot, but they at first 
refused to come near him, and a young woman 
was the first whom he could induce to help 
him out of his car. A stone with a long 
inscription, set up in a meadow in the parish 
of Standon, near Ware, marks to this day the 
place where the first of all English balloons 
touched ground. 

The following year witnessed a yet bolder 
enterprise. Blanchard, a French aeronaut, 
and Dr. Jeffries, an American, determined 
on an attempt to cross the Channel. On a 
winter's day, early in 1785, they had their 
balloon inflated with hydrogen at Dover and 
boldly cast off to sea. The cold air appeared to 


chill the gas more than they had foreseen, and 
long before they were across the Channel their 
balloon began settling down upon the water. 
They threw out all their ballast, then a number 
of books they were carrying, then their anchor, 
extra ropes, and other gear. Still it seemed 
very doubtful whether they would reach the 
French coast, and as a last resort they began 
even to throw away their clothes to lighten 
the balloon. Fortunately at this moment the 
balloon shot up into the air again, and event- 
ually brought them down in safety near the 
forest of Guiennes. 

So far, although several hundred ascents 
had been made, and in spite of the many and 
great dangers of the new-found art and the 
inexperience of the early voyagers, no fatal 
accident had marred the delight of sailing the 
skies. Disasters, however, were soon to come. 
It is sad to relate that the earliest to fall a 
victim was the brave Pilatre de Rozier him- 
self, the first of all men to go aloft in a balloon. 
Fired with a desire to emulate Blanchard and 
Jeffries, he decided that he himself would 
cross the Channel, this time from France to 
England ; and to avoid, as he imagined, the 
cooling of the gas, which had so nearly proved 
disastrous on the previous occasion, he hit on 
the extraordinary idea of combining the prin- 
ciples of both the " Montgolfier " and " Char- 
lier" balloons, and suspending a fire balloon 
beneath another filled with hydrogen gas. It 


seems a remarkable thing to us now that no 
one in those days saw the awful danger of 
such a combination. The inevitable happened. 
When the balloon was high in the air the 
furnace of the hot-air machine set fire to 
the highly inflammable hydrogen, a fearful 
explosion followed, and De Rozier and his 
companion were dashed to pieces. 



Unfortunately the death of Pilatre de 
Rozier was but the first of a series of fatal 
accidents which marred the early years of 
the history of ballooning. Shortly afterwards 
another French aeronaut, going up in too 
shallow a car, fell overboard when at a great 
height and was killed. A little later Count 
Zambeccari, an Italian, ascended in a hot-air 
balloon, which, on coming near the earth, 
became entangled in a tree. The furnace it 
carried set fire to the silk. To escape from 
the flames, the Count leapt to the ground 
and was killed on the spot. A few years 
after, Madame Blanchard, wife of the man 
who first crossed the English Channel, made 
a night ascent from Paris with a number of 
fireworks hung from the car. These, in some 


way, ignited the balloon, which fell to the 
ground, killing the unfortunate lady in its fall. 

On the other hand, many miraculous escapes 
are on record. One of the earliest balloonists 
spent the night alone aloft in the midst of a 
terrific thunder-storm, with the lightning flash- 
ing all around him, and yet descended in safety 
when morning broke. M. Garnerin, a famous 
French aeronaut of this date, also was lost in 
a storm. His balloon became unmanageable, 
and borne to earth was dashed against a 
mountain side, the occupant losing conscious- 
ness, until the balloon, which had ascended 
again, brought him safely down once more 
many miles away. 

A marvellous escape took place in 1808, 
when two Italians ascended in a gas balloon 
from Padua and attained a great height, 
estimated as approaching 30,000 feet. Here 
the balloon burst, and came precipitately to 
the ground ; and yet, despite the terrific fall, 
the aeronauts escaped with their lives. The 
explanation of this seeming impossibility was, 
no doubt, the tendency which a balloon, 
emptied of its gas, possesses to form a natural 
parachute. During a rapid fall the lower 
part of the silk will, if loose, collapse into 
the upper portion to form a kind of open 
umbrella, and thus very effectually break the 
descent. Many balloonists have owed their 
safety in similar accidents to this fortunate 


The bursting of balloons when at high 
altitudes has already been referred to as 
happening on several previous occasions. It 
is a danger which is always present when a 
balloon is aloft, unless due precautions are 
taken, and the neglect of these precautions 
has probably led to more ballooning accidents 
than any other cause. The explanation is 
simply the varying pressure exerted upon the 
bag of gas by the weight of the atmosphere. 
When an inflated balloon is resting upon the 
ground, the vast ocean of air above it is 
pressing upon it with a weight of approxi- 
mately fifteen pounds to the square inch, and 
it is this pressure which prevents the enclosed 
gas from expanding beyond a certain limit. 
The balloon then rises high into the air, where 
the weight of atmosphere pressing upon it is 
much diminished. The higher it rises the 
less the pressure becomes, and the gas it 
holds soon expands so much that, unless a 
vent is provided for it, the balloon will burst. 
At the present day the neck of a balloon is 
always left wide open when the balloon is in 
the air, to allow of the escape of the gas 
during the ascent. 

A perilous adventure befell Mr. Sadler, an 
English aeronaut, in 1812. whilst attempting 
to cross the Irish Channel. He started from 
Dublin with a wind which he hoped would 
carry him to Liverpool, but had gone only 
a short distance when he discovered a rent, 


which seemed to be increasing, in the silk 
of his balloon. Climbing the rigging with 
difficulty, he contrived to tie up the hole with 
his neckcloth. He was by this time over the 
sea, and having passed near the Isle of Man, 
found himself, as evening was approaching, 
close to the coast of North Wales. Here he 
endeavoured to seek a landing, but just at 
the critical moment the wind shifted, as it 
frequently does in this treacherous Channel, 
and he was quickly blown out to sea again. 
There he remained for another hour vainly 
endeavouring to make the land, and then, 
despairing of the attempt and seeing five 
ships beneath him, he came boldly down on 
the water, trusting they would come to his 

But he came down too far away from them, 
and one and all continued their course and 
took no notice. He was obliged, therefore, to 
throw out ballast and to rise into the air 
once more. The sun was now set upon the 
level of the water, but as the brave aeronaut 
rose he beheld it once more above the horizon, 
and was cheered by its beams. Presently he 
saw beneath him three more vessels, which 
signalled their willingness to help him, and 
he immediately came down on the sea again 
as close to them as he could. But the wind, 
now rising fast, caught the half empty silk 
of the balloon as it touched the waves, and 
bore it along over the surface of the water- 


at a terrific pace ; and although the vessels 
came after in full pursuit, they were unable 
to overtake it. 

Mr. Sadler then dropped his grappling-iron 
to act as a drag, and this not proving sufficient, 
took off his clothes and tied them to the iron 
as a further expedient. Still the vessels failed 
to overhaul him as he sped over the waves, 
and he was at length forced to let out a 
quantity of the gas still remaining, and so 
cripple the balloon. But this was a dangerous 
move, for the car now instantly sank ; and the 
unfortunate man had to clutch the hoop and 
then the netting, to keep himself above water. 
Chilled and exhausted, and frequently plunged 
beneath the waves, he was soon at the point 
of death ; for the nearest ship, though now 
close at hand, fearful of becoming entangled in 
the netting, still held off. Fainting as he was, 
Mr. Sadler yet managed to summon strength 
to call to the sailors to run their bowsprit 
through the balloon to stop its course, and 
this being done, he was hauled on board more 
dead than alive. 

Five years passed, and no more attempts 
were made to cross the treacherous Irish Sea, 
until Mr. Sadler's own son, Mr. Windham 
Sadler, determined himself to make the at- 
tempt which had so nearly cost his father his 
life. Choosing the same starting-ground for 
his venture, he left Dublin on the longest day 
of 1817, and, fortune favouring him, reached 


the Welsh coast not far from Holyhead, after 
a voyage of 70 miles, lasting five hours. This 
was the last attempt to cross the Irish Channel, 
until November 1902, when the Rev. J. M. 
Bacon and Mr. Percival Spencer, starting 
from Douglas, in the Isle of Man, landed in 
a rocky glen 15 miles beyond Dumfries, 
after a journey of 80 miles, accomplished in 
three hours. Brave Mr. Windham Sadler 
unhappily lost his life in a terrible balloon 
accident in 1824. 

But a more celebrated balloonist, perhaps 
the most famous of all, had by this time come 
to the fore — Charles Green, fitly called " The 
Father of English Aeronautics." It was he 
who first introduced a new method of balloon- 
filling, which quickly revolutionised the whole 
art and practice. This was nothing more or 
less than the employment of ordinary house- 
hold or coal gas for inflation, in place of the 
costly and dangerous hydrogen. 

While balloons were inflated only with pure 
hydrogen — for the uncertain and dangerous 
method of filling with hot air was soon almost 
entirely abandoned — no great strides could be 
made in the art of sailing the skies. The 
filling of a large balloon eighty years ago cost 
no less than £250, and few people could be 
found willing to provide so much money for 
such a purpose. Coal gas, however, was by 
then to be found in every town of any conse- 
quence ; and it was Green's suggestion that 


though this gas might be greatly inferior to 
pure hydrogen in buoyancy or "lifting power," 
it yet contained a sufficient quantity of hydro- 
gen in it for all ordinary aeronautical purposes. 

The coronation of King George the Fourth 
was the occasion chosen by Green to put his 
new scheme to the test and fill a balloon with 
coal gas. The experiment was entirely suc- 
cessful, and henceforward balloon ascents be- 
came much commoner throughout the world, 
for Green's discovery reduced the cost of filling 
tenfold, and the trouble and anxiety a hundred- 
fold. Green himself became one of the most 
famous men of his day, and lived to make a 
thousand ascents, some of them of the most 
daring and exciting description. 

The most celebrated event in all his career, 
however, was the voyage of the Great Nassau 
Balloon, in November 1836. This voyage 
created a tremendous sensation at the time, 
and has always been considered one of the 
most adventurous enterprises in the whole his- 
tory of aeronautics. How it came about was 
as follows : — 

The managers of the Vauxhall Gardens, 
London, had made, with Mr. Green's assist- 
ance, a very large and fine balloon of crimson 
silk, which stood eighty feet high and held 
90,000 cubic feet of gas, and which would 
carry, if needed, more than twenty persons. 
After it was made the proprietors proposed 
exhibiting it in Paris, and there was some 

The Great Nassau Balloon. 


question of how this valuable and fragile 
property had best be conveyed so far. Mr. 
Hollond, a young gentleman of considerable 
wealth, and a great lover of adventure, at 
once came forward, and proposed to take the 
balloon to the Continent by sky. His offer was 
accepted, and to make the ascent more note- 
worthy, it was decided to start from London 
and cross the sea by night, making as long a 
voyage as possible, although it was already 
winter time, and such a venture had never 
before been made. 

Preparations were at once commenced. The 
passengers were limited to three — Mr. Green, 
who was to manage the balloon, Mr. Hollond, 
and his friend Mr. Monck Mason. A ton of 
ballast was to be carried, provisions for a whole 
fortnight were laid in, and, since none could 
tell to within a thousand miles or more where 
they might be drifted, passports to every king- 
dom in Europe were obtained. 

They left London late one November day, 
and, rising under a north-west wind, skirted 
the north of Kent. Passing presently over 
Canterbury, they wrote a courteous message 
to the mayor, and dropped it in a parachute. 
Some time later, when the short autumn twi- 
light was beginning to wane, they saw beneath 
them the gleam of white waves, and knew 
they had reached the boundary of the hitherto 
much-dreaded sea. Immediately afterwards 
they entered a heavy sea fog, which hid all 


things from their sight, and darkness and dead 
silence reigned around. 

This lasted for fifty minutes, when they 
emerged from the cloud and found the bright 
lights of Calais beneath them. It was then 
quite dark, and they sped on through the 
night over unknown towns and villages whose 
lights gleamed fainter and fewer as the time 
went on. Then once again they entered the 
fog-bank, and for long hours no sign or sound 
of earth reached them more. 

As the night wore on they suddenly had 
a startling and alarming experience. Their 
balloon, which had been flying near the earth, 
was presently lightened by the discharge of 
ballast, and rose to a height of 12,000 feet into 
the air. Immediately afterwards, when all 
around was wrapped in the deepest silence 
and the blackest darkness, there came the 
sound of a sharp explosion from over their 
heads, followed by a rustling of the silk, and 
immediately the car received a violent jerk. 
The same thing was repeated again and yet 
again, and it is small wonder that the awful 
conviction then seized the party that there, in 
the darkness, in the dead of night, at that 
fearful height, their balloon had burst, and 
they were falling headlong to the ground. 
Great indeed must have been their relief 
when they found this was not the case, and 
discovered the real reason of their alarm. 

It is the tendency of a balloon when flying 


near the ground to assume an elongated or 
pear shape ; and while their balloon was in 
this position the netting, which was wet with 
dew, had frozen hard and tight around it. 
Immediately they rose to great heights the 
gas had expanded, and the balloon had be- 
come globular in shape, with a result that the 
stiffened ropes sprang to their new position 
with the crack and jerk which had so startled 
the party. When day broke next morning 
they found themselves over long tracts of 
desolate forest land, and fearing they were 
approaching the wild, inhospitable steppes of 
Russia, they descended with all speed, and 
discovered they were in the Duchy of Nassau, 
in Germany, near Weilburg, where they were 
received with the wildest enthusiasm and 
delight. From start to finish they had ac- 
complished a voyage of 500 miles in eighteen 

After this event Green made many other 
voyages in the great Nassau balloon, and met 
with many exciting adventures. On one occa- 
sion, ascending in a violent gale of wind, he 
and a passenger covered twenty miles in a 
quarter of an hour, and, on descending near 
Rainham, in Essex, were blown along across 
the fields at a furious pace, until the anchor 
caught, and brought them up with such a 
wrench that it broke the ring and jerked the 
car completely upside down. Green and his 
friend only escaped from being thrown out by 



holding on to the ropes, and they were after- 
wards dragged wildly through fences and 
hedges until the balloon collapsed and came 
to a stand, though not before they had both 
been severely hurt. 

On another voyage the famous balloon met 
with serious injury, for having been some time 
above the clouds, during an ascent, Green 
found himself carried out to sea, and was 
obliged to come down in the water two miles 
north of Sheerness. As in the accident which 
befell Mr. Sadler in his attempt to cross the 
Irish Channel, the wind caught the silk and 
bore it along across the water too rapidly for 
a pursuing vessel to overtake it. Green then 
lowered his anchor, which by happy chance 
soon became entangled in a sunken wreck, 
and so brought the balloon up. A boat im- 
mediately put out to his assistance, and he 
and a companion were speedily rescued ; but 
the balloon was so restive in the wind that 
it was dangerous to approach it. Green him- 
self then suggested that a volley of musketry 
should be fired into the silk to expel the gas, 
and this was accordingly done and the balloon 
secured, though it afterwards took Green a 
fortnight's hard labour to repair the damage 
done to the fabric. 

But the saddest event connected with the 
Nassau balloon was the fatal accident which 
befell Mr. Cocking in 1837, the year after the 
great Nassau voyage. Before relating this, 


however, it will be necessary to refer briefly 
to the history of a most important accessory 
of the balloon, hitherto unmentioned — the 

The name parachute comes from two French 
words, parer, to parry and chute, a fall, and it 
signifies a contrivance, made more or less in 
the form of an enormous umbrella, to break 
the fall from a balloon or other great height, 
The principle of the parachute was understood 
even before the invention of the balloon. In 
Eastern countries, in particular, where the 
umbrella or parasol has been in familiar use 
from earliest ages, parachutes were frequently 
employed by acrobats to enable them to jump 
safely from great elevations. In France also, 
at the end of the eighteenth century, a captive 
officer attempted to escape from a lofty prison 
by similar means. 

The aeronaut Blanchard was the first to 
construct a parachute for use from a balloon, 
his idea being that it might prove of service 
in the event of an accident while aloft. In 
1785 he let down from a great height a para- 
chute to which was attached a dog in a basket, 
which reached the ground gently and safely. 
After this M. Garnerin, the famous balloon- 
ist already referred to, hazarded a parachute 
descent in person, and his attempt being 
eminently satisfactory, parachute descents be- 
came fairly common. 

In August 1814 Mr. Cocking, an English 


gentleman of scientific tastes, read a paper on 
parachutes, suggesting an amendment in their 
shape and construction, before the Society of 
Arts, for which he was awarded a medal. His 
theory was never put into practice, however, 
till twenty-three years later, when, fired no 
doubt by the interest aroused by the famous 
Nassau voyage, he resolved to put his inven- 
tion to the test. 

He accordingly constructed his parachute, 
which was of enormous size, of unwieldy 
weight, and in shape rather resembling an 
umbrella turned inside out. Despite the 
warning of friends that the untried machine 
was unwisely built, he insisted on making a 
descent with it, and succeeded in persuading 
Mr. Green to take him and his craft aloft 
attached to the Nassau balloon. 

On the 27th of July 1837 they started from 
the Vauxhall Gardens, Mr. Green in the car 
accompanied by Mr. Edward Spencer (grand- 
father of the present well-known firm of 
aeronauts), his friend and frequent companion ; 
Mr. Cocking seated in his machine slung 
below. A height of 5000 feet was attained, 
and then Mr. Cocking, after bidding a hearty 
farewell to the others, pulled the rope which 
liberated his parachute from the balloon. 
Relieved from the enormous weight, the latter 
rushed upwards into the sky with terrific 
velocity, the gas pouring in volumes from the 
valves and almost suffocating the occupants of 

Cooking's Pakachute. 


the car. Their position, indeed, for the time 
was one of the greatest danger, and they were 
thankful to reach the earth unharmed, which 
they eventually did. But their fate was 
happier far than that of the luckless Cocking, 
whose parachute, after swaying fearfully from 
side to side, at length utterly collapsed, and 
falling headlong, was, with its inventor, dashed 
to pieces. 

While Charles Green was making his 
famous ascents in England, an equally cele- 
brated aeronaut, John Wise, was pursuing the 
same art in America. During a long and 
successful career, unhappily terminated by an 
accident, Wise made many experiments in the 
construction of balloons, their shape, size, 
varnish, material, and so forth. His results, 
which he carefully put together, have been of 
the greatest value to balloon manufacturers 
until the present time. In the course of his 
many voyages he met with various exciting 
adventures. On one occasion while aloft he 
saw before him a huge black cloud of particu- 
larly forbidding aspect. Entering this, he 
found himself in the heart of a terrific storm- 
His balloon was caught in a whirlwind, and 
set so violently spinning and swinging that he 
was sea-sick with the motion, while, at the 
same time, he felt himself half-suffocated and 
scarce able to breathe. Within the cloud the 
cold was intense ; the ropes of the balloon 
became glazed with ice and snow till they 


resembled glass rofts; flair feflsmound, and the 
gloom was so great that from the car the silk 
above became invisible. " A noise resembling 
the rushing of a thousand mill-dams, inter- 
mingled with a dismal moaning sound of wind, 
surrounded me in this terrible flight.' 1 Wise 
adds, " Bright sunshine was just above the 
clouds ; " but though he endeavoured to reach 
it by throwing out ballast, the balloon had no 
sooner begun to rise upwards than it was 
caught afresh by the storm and whirled down 
again. Neither was he able, by letting out 
gas, to escape this furious vortex from be- 
neath; and for twenty minutes he was swept 
to and fro, and up and down in the cloud, 
before he could get clear of it, or regain any 
control over his balloon. 

On another occasion Wise made an exceed- 
ingly daring and bold experiment. Convinced 
of the power which, as has before been said, 
an empty balloon has of turning itself into a 
natural parachute, he determined to put the 
matter to the test, and deliberately to burst 
his balloon when at a great height. For this 
purpose he made a special balloon of very thin 
material, and fastened up the neck so that 
there was no vent for the gas. He then 
ascended fearlessly to a height of 13,000 feet, 
where, through the expansion of the hydrogen 
with which it was filled, his balloon exploded. 
The gas escaped instantly, so that in ten 
seconds not a trace remained. The empty 


balloon at first descended with fearful rapidity, 
with a strange moaning sound as the air 
rushed through the network. Then the silk 
assuming parachute shape, the fall became less 
rapid, and finally the car, coming down in 
zigzags, turned upside down when close to 
the ground, and tossed Wise out into a field 

It was John Wise's great desire at one time 
to sail a balloon right across the Atlantic from 
America to Europe. Long study of the upper 
winds had convinced him that a regular current 
of air is always blowing steadily high aloft 
from west to east, and he believed that if an 
aeronaut could only keep his balloon in this 
upper current he might be carried across the 
ocean quicker, and with more ease and safety, 
than in the fastest steamship. Wise went so 
far as to work out all the details for this plan, 
the size of the balloon required, the ballast, 
provisions, and number of passengers ; and 
only the want of sufficient money prevented 
him from actually making the attempt. Curi- 
ously enough, about the same time, Charles 
Green, in England, was, quite independently, 
working at the same idea, which he also be- 
lieved, with proper equipment, to be quite 




So far, in our history of aeronautics, we have 
referred to ballooning only as a sport or pas- 
time for the amusement of spectators, and for 
the gratifying of a love of adventure. It is 
now time to speak of the practical uses of the 
balloon, and how it has been employed as a 
most valuable scientific instrument to teach 
us facts about the upper atmosphere, its 
nature and extent, the clouds, the winds and 
their ways, the travel of sounds, and many 
other things of which we should otherwise be 

Before the invention of the balloon men 
were quite unaware of the nature of the air 
even a short distance above their heads. In 
those days high mountain climbing had not 
come into fashion, and when Pilatre de Rozier 
made the first ascent, it was considered very 
doubtful whether he might be able to exist in 
the strange atmosphere aloft. Charles and 
Roberts were the first to make scientific 
observations from a balloon, for they took up 
a thermometer and barometer, and made 
certain rough records, as also did other early 
aeronauts. The most interesting purely scien- 


tific ascents of early days, however, were made 
in the autumn of 1804, from Paris, by Gay 
Lussac, a famous French philosopher. He 
took up with him all manner of instruments, 
among them a compass (to see if the needle 
behaved the same as on earth), an apparatus to 
test the electricity of the air, thermometers, 
barometers, and hygrometers, carefully ex- 
hausted flasks in which to bring down samples 
of the upper air, birds, and even insects and 
frogs, to see how great heights affected them. 
In his second voyage his balloon attained the 
enormous altitude of 23,000 feet, or more than 
four miles and a quarter, and nearly 2000 feet 
higher than the highest peaks of the Andes. 
At this tremendous height the temperature 
fell to far below freezing-point, and the aero- 
naut became extremely cold, though warmly 
clad ; he also felt headache, a difficulty in 
breathing, and his throat became so parched 
that he could hardly swallow. Nevertheless, 
undismayed by the awfulness of his position, 
he continued making his observations, and 
eventually reached the ground in safety, and 
none the worse for his experience. 

Gay Lussac's experiments at least proved 
that though the air becomes less and less dense 
as we ascend into it, it remains of the same 
nature and constitution. His second voyage 
also showed that the limit to which man 
could ascend aloft into the sky and yet live 
had not yet been reached. Almost sixty 


3^ears later other scientific ascents threw fresh 
light on this point, and also continued the 
other investigations that Gay Lussac had 

Towards the close of Charles Green's famous 
career, scientific men in England woke up to 
the fact that the use of a balloon as an im- 
portant means for obtaining observations on 
meteorology and other matters had of late 
been very much neglected. The British Asso- 
ciation took the matter up, and provided 
the money for four scientific ascents, which 
were made by Mr. Welsh of Kew Observa- 
tory, a trained observer. Green was the 
aeronaut chosen to accompany him, and the 
balloon used was none other than the great 
Nassau balloon, of whose many and wonder- 
ful adventures we have already spoken. Green 
was then nearly seventy years of age, but his 
skill as an aeronaut was as great as ever, and 
Welsh was able to obtain many valuable 
records. During the last voyage a height was 
attained almost as great as that reached by 
Gay Lussac, and both men found much diffi- 
culty in breathing. While at this elevation 
they suddenly noticed they were rapidly ap- 
proaching the sea, and so were forced to make 
a very hasty descent, in which many of the 
instruments were broken. 

The veteran Green lived to a ripe old age, 
dying in 1870, aged eighty-five. When a very 
old man he still delighted in taking visitors to 


an outhouse where he kept the old Nassau 
balloon, now worn out and useless, and, hand- 
ling it affectionately, would talk of its famous 
adventures and his own thousand ascents, dur- 
ing which he had never once met with serious 
accident or failure. After his death the old 
balloon passed into the hands of another 
equally famous man, who, after Green's re- 
tirement, took his place as the most celebrated 
English aeronaut of the day. 

This was Henry Coxwell. He was the son 
of a naval officer, and was brought up to the 
profession of a dentist. But when a boy of 
only nine years old he watched, through his 
father's telescope, a balloon ascent by Green, 
which so fired his imagination that hence- 
forward balloons filled all his thoughts. As 
he grew older the fascination increased upon 
him. He would go long distances to see 
ascents or catch glimpses of balloons in the 
air, and he was fortunate enough to be present 
at the first launching of the great Nassau 
balloon. He did not get the chance of a 
voyage aloft, however, till he was twenty- 
five ; but after this nothing could restrain his 
ardour, and, throwing his profession to the 
winds, he made ascent after ascent on all pos- 
sible occasions. 

In one of his early voyages he met with what 
he describes as one of the most perilous de- 
scents in the whole history of ballooning. The 
occasion was an evening ascent made from the 


Vauxhall Gardens one autumn night of 1848. 
The aeronaut was a Mr. Gypson, and besides 
Mr. Coxwell there were two other passengers, 
one of whom was the well-known mountaineer 
and lecturer, Albert Smith. A number of 
fireworks which were to be displayed when 



aloft were slung on a framework forty feet 
below the car. 

The balloon rose high above London, and 
the party were amazed and delighted with the 
strange and lovely view of the great city by 
night, all sight of the houses being lost in the 
darkness, and the thousands of gas lamps, out- 
lining the invisible streets and bridges, twink- 


ling like stars in a blue-black sky. Cox well 
was sitting, not in the car, but in the ring of 
the balloon, and presently, when they were 
about 7000 feet above the town, he noticed that 
the silk, the mouth of which appears to have 
been fastened, was growing dangerously dis- 
tended with the expanding gas. By his advice 
the valve was immediately pulled, but it was 
already too late ; the balloon burst, the gas 
escaped with a noise like the escape of steam 
from an engine, the silk collapsed, and the 
balloon began to descend with appalling 
speed, the immense mass of loose silk surging 
and rustling frightfully overhead. Everything 
was immediately thrown out of the car to 
break the fall ; but the wind still seemed to 
be rushing past at a fearful rate, and, to add 
to the horror of the aeronauts, they now came 
down through the remains of the discharged 
fireworks floating in the air. Little bits of 
burning cases and still smouldering touch- 
paper blew about them, and were caught in 
the rigging. These kindled into sparks, and 
there seemed every chance of the whole balloon 
catching alight. They were still a whole mile 
from the ground, and this distance they appear 
to have covered in less than two minutes. 
The house-tops seemed advancing up towards 
them with awful speed as they neared earth. 
In the end they were tossed out of the car 
along the ground, and it appeared a perfect 
marvel to them all that they escaped with only 


a severe shaking. This adventure did not in 
the least abate Coxwell's ardour for ballooning, 
and exactly a week later he and Gypson suc- 
cessfully made the same ascent from the same 
place, and in the same balloon — and loaded 
with twice the number of fireworks ! 

But Coxwell's most celebrated voyage of all 
took place some years later, on the occasion 
of a scientific voyage made in company with 
Mr. James Glaisher. In 1862 the British As- 
sociation determined to continue the balloon 
observations which Mr. Welsh had so success- 
fully commenced, but this time on a larger 
scale. The observer was to be Mr. Glaisher 
of Greenwich Observatory, and Mr. Coxwell, 
who by this time had become a recognised 
aeronaut, undertook the management of the 
balloon. The first ascents were made in July 
and August. Mr. Glaisher took up a most 
elaborate and costly outfit of instruments, 
which, however, were badly damaged at the 
outset during a very rapid descent, made per- 
force to avoid falling in the " Wash." On 
each occasion a height of over four miles was 
attained ; but on the third voyage, which was 
in September, it was decided to try and reach 
yet greater altitudes. 

The balloon with its two passengers left Wol- 
verhampton at 1 p.m. — the temperature on the 
ground being 59°. At about a mile high a 
dense cloud was entered, and the thermometer 
fell to 36°. In nineteen minutes a height of 


two miles was reached, and the air was at 
freezing-point. Six minutes later they were 
three miles aloft, with the thermometer still 
falling ; and by the time four miles high was 
attained the mercury registered only 8°. 

In forty-seven minutes from the start five 
miles had been passed ; and now the tempera- 
ture was 2° below zero. Mr. Coxwell, who 
was up in the ring of the balloon and exerting 
himself over the management of it, found he 
was beginning to breathe with great difficulty. 
Mr. Glaisher, sitting quietly in the car watch- 
ing his instruments, felt no inconvenience. 
More ballast was thrown out, and the balloon 
continued to rise apace ; and soon Mr. Glaisher 
found his eyes growing strangely dim. He 
could not see to read his thermometer, or 
distinguish the hands of his watch. He noticed 
the mercury of the barometer, however, and 
saw that a height of 29,000 feet had been 
reached, and the balloon was still rising. 
What followed next had best be told in 
Mr. Glaisher's own words : — 

" Shortly after I laid my arm upon the table, 
possessed of its full vigour, but on being 
desirous of using it, I found it useless. Trying 
to move the other arm, I found it powerless 
also. Then I tried to shake myself and suc- 
ceeded, but I seemed to have no limbs. In 
looking at the barometer my head fell over 
my left shoulder. I struggled and shook my 
body again, but could not move my arms. 


Getting my head upright for an instant only, 
it fell on my right shoulder ; then I fell back- 
wards, my body resting against the side of the 
car, and my head on the edge. I dimly saw- 
Mr. Coxwell and endeavoured to speak, but 
could not. In an instant intense darkness 
overcame me ; but I was still conscious, with 
as active a brain as at the present moment 
while writing this. I thought I had been 
seized with asphyxia, and believed I should 
experience nothing more, as death would come 
unless we speedily descended. Other thoughts 
were entering my mind, when I suddenly be- 
came unconscious as on going to sleep." Mr. 
Glaisher adds : " I cannot tell anything of the 
sense of hearing, as no sound reaches the ear 
to break the perfect stillness and silence of the 
regions between six and seven miles above 
the earth." 

Meanwhile, as stated, Mr. Coxwell was up 
in the ring, trying to secure the valve-line, 
which had become twisted. To do this he 
had taken off a pair of thick gloves he had 
been wearing, and in the tremendous cold of 
that awful region the moment his bare hands 
rested on the metal of the ring they became 
frost-bitten and useless. Looking down, he 
saw Mr. Glaisher in a fainting condition, and 
called out to him, but received no answer. 
Thoroughly alarmed by this time, he tried to 
come down to his companion's assistance ; but 
now his hands also had become lifeless, and 



he felt unconsciousness rapidly stealing over 

Quickly realising that death to both of 
them would speedily follow if the balloon 
continued to ascend, Mr. Coxwell now en- 
deavoured to pull the valve-line ; but he 
found it impossible to do so with his disabled 
hands. Fortunately he was a man of great 
bodily strength, as well as of iron nerve, and 
by a great effort he succeeded in catching 
the valve-line in his teeth. Then, putting his 
whole weight upon it, he managed to pull 
open the valve, and hold it until the balloon 
took a decided turn downwards. This saved 
them. As lower regions were reached, where 
the air was denser, Mr. Glaisher began to 
recover, and by the time they came to the 
ground neither of these two brave men 
were any the worse for their extraordinary 

Neither Mr. Glaisher or Mr. Coxwell were 
able to note the exact elevation when they 
were at their greatest height ; but from 
several circumstances they were convinced 
that it must have been 36,000 or 37,000 feet, 
or fully seven miles high. Later aeronauts 
have been inclined to doubt if this surmise 
can be quite correct ; but whether it is so 
or not is of no great moment, for this great 
balloon ascent will always stand unrivalled 
in the history of ballooning. Since that day 
nearly as great, or perhaps even greater, 


heights have been reached in balloons ; but 
nowadays those who attempt to ascend to 
great elevations always provide themselves, 
before they start, with cylinders of com- 
pressed oxygen gas. Then when the atmos- 
phere aloft becomes so thin and rare as to 
make breathing difficult, they begin to fill 
their lungs with the life-giving gas from the 
cylinders, and at once recover. 

After this perilous voyage Glaisher and 
Coxwell made several other scientific balloon 
ascents. They met with various experiences. 
On one occasion, during a lofty ascent, they 
lost sight of the earth above the clouds for 
a while, but, the mist suddenly breaking, they 
found themselves on the point of drifting out 
to sea. Not a moment was to be lost, and 
both men hung on to the valve-line until 
it cut their hands. The result was a tre- 
mendously rapid descent. The balloon fell 
four and a quarter miles in less than a quarter 
of an hour, covering the last two miles in 
only four minutes. They reached earth close 
to the shore, and were fortunate to escape 
with only a few bruises, though all the instru- 
ments were once more broken in the shock. 

Mr. Glaisher was able to make many 
interesting notes of the condition of the 
winds and clouds at high levels. He ob- 
served how frequently different currents of 
air are blowing aloft in different directions 
at the same time. These differing winds 


affect the shape of the clouds among which 
they blow. High above the ground he 
frequently met with a warm wind blowing 
constantly from the south-west; and he be- 
lieved that it is largely due to this mild air- 
stream passing always overhead that England 
enjoys such much less rigorous winters than 
other countries that lie as far north of the 
equator. This mildness of our climate has 
long been attributed to the Gulf Stream, 
that warm current of the sea which sweeps 
up from the tropics past our shores. But it 
may well be that there is besides an " Aerial 
Gulf Stream," as Mr. Glaisher calls it, blowing 
constantly above our heads, which also serves 
to warm the air, and make our winter climate 
mild and moist. 

One fact these experiments seemed to 
establish was, that when rain is falling from 
an overcast sky, there is always a higher layer 
of clouds overhanging the lower stratum. 
Nothing surprised Mr. Glaisher more than 
the extreme rapidity with which the whole 
sky, up to a vast height, could fill up entirely 
with clouds at the approach of a storm. 
Another point noted was that, when a wind 
is blowing, the upper portion of the current 
always travels faster than that next the 
ground. This is due, of course, to the 
obstacles the wind meets as it sweeps over 
the earth, and which check its onward 


These, and very many other facts of the 
greatest interest to the meteorologist, were 
the outcome of Mr. Glaisher's experiments. 
Later voyages of a similar kind have added 
greatly to our knowledge of the condition 
of the air, and it seems certain that in the 
future the balloon will be much more used 
by scientific men, and by its means they will 
be able to predict the weather more accurately 
and further ahead than at present, and learn 
many other things of which we are now in 



But there is another practical use for the 
balloon to which we must now refer, and 
that a most important one — its employment 
in war-time. It was not long after the in- 
vention of this ship of the skies that soldiers 
began to realise what a valuable aid it might 
be to them in times of battle, enabling them 
to see inside a camp, fort, or beleaguered 
city, or watch the enemy's movements from 
afar off. The opportunity for first putting 
the matter to the test very soon arose. 
Within a very few years of the earliest bal- 
loon experiments in France there commenced 


in that very country the dreadful French 
Revolution, and soon the nation found itself 
at war with all the world, and forced to hold 
its own, alone, against the armies of Europe. 
This danger quickened the minds of all to 
the importance of making use of every pos- 
sible means of defence in their power. It 
was suggested that the newly discovered 
balloon might be turned to account, and 
immediately a school for military ballooning 
was established near Paris. Fifty young 
military students were trained in the new 
art, and suitable balloons were provided. 
The value of their work was soon apparent. 
In June 1794 was fought the battle of 
Fleurus, between the French and Austrians. 
Before the fight a balloon party had carefully 
observed the position of the Austrian forces, 
and, through the information they gave, the 
French were able to gain a speedy and de- 
cisive victory. In this way, and at this early 
stage, the value of the war balloon was at 
once established. 

Curiously enough, Napoleon would make 
no use of balloons in his campaigns, and even 
did away with the balloon school at Paris. 
The reason given for his prejudice is a curious 
one. At the time of his coronation a large, 
unmanned balloon, gaily decorated, and carry- 
ing thousands of lights, was sent up from 
Paris during the evening's illuminations. It 
was a very beautiful object, and behaved 


splendidly, sailing away into the night, amidst 
great popular rejoicing, until it was lost to 
sight in the darkness. But at daybreak next 
morning it was seen approaching the city of 
Rome, where it presently arrived, actually 
hovering over St. Peter's and the Vatican. 
Then, as if its mission were fulfilled, it settled 
to earth, and finally fell in Lake Bracciano. 
But as it fell it rent itself, and left a portion 
of the crown with which it was ornamented 
on the tomb of the Roman Emperor Nero. 
Napoleon, who was always a superstitious 
man, saw in this extraordinary voyage some 
dreadful forecast of his own fate. He was 
much disturbed, and forebade the matter 
ever to be mentioned in his presence ; nor 
would he henceforward have any more to 
do with balloons. 

Military balloons were used by the French 
again, however, during their war in Africa in 
1830. The Austrians also used them in 1849, 
and it is said the Russians had them at the 
siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War. A 
Montgolfier balloon was made use of by the 
French in 1862 at the battle of Solferino ; 
and the Americans also employed balloons 
during the Civil War a year later. The 
American war balloons were comparatively 
small ones, inflated with hydrogen. The 
hydrogen was manufactured in the way al- 
ready described, by pouring dilute sulphuric 
acid upon scrap-iron. For making the gas 



upon the field two large tanks of wood called 
"generators" were used. In these the water 
and scrap-iron were placed and the acid poured 
upon them, the gas produced being carried 
to the balloon through pipes, passing first 


American War Balloon. 

through vessels filled with lime-water to cool 
and purify it. When on the march four 
waggons were sufficient to carry the whole 
apparatus. The inflation, which took some 
time, was made as close to the scene of 
action as was considered safe, and when 
the balloon was once full a party of men 


could easily tow it about to where it was 

But the time when the balloon was most 
largely and most usefully used in time of 
war was during the Siege of Paris. In the 
month of September 1870, during the Franco- 
Prussian War, Paris was closely invested by 
the Prussian forces, and for eighteen long 
weeks lay besieged and cut off from all the 
rest of the world. No communication with 
the city was possible either by road, river, 
rail, or telegraph, nor could the inhabitants 
convey tidings of their plight save by one 
means alone. Only the passage of the air 
was open to them. 

Quite at the beginning of the siege it oc- 
curred to the Parisians that they might use 
balloons to escape from the beleaguered town, 
and pass over the heads of the enemy to safety 
beyond; and inquiry was at once made to 
discover what aeronautical resources were at 
their command. 

It was soon found that with only one or 
two exceptions the balloons actually in exist- 
ence within the walls were unserviceable or 
unsuitable for the work on hand, being mostly 
old ones which had been laid aside as worth- 
less. One lucky discovery was, however, made. 
Two professional aeronauts, of well-proved 
experience and skill, were in Paris at the time. 
These were MM. Godard and Yon, both of 
whom had been in London only a short time 


before in connection with a huge captive bal- 
loon which was then being exhibited there. 
They at once received orders to establish two 
balloon factories, and begin making a large 
number of balloons as quickly as possible. 
For their workshops they were given the use 
of two great railway stations, then standing 
idle and deserted. No better places for the 
purpose could be imagined, for under the 
great glass roofs there was plenty of space, 
and the work went on apace. 

As the balloons were intended to make only 
one journey each, plain white or coloured 
calico (of which there was plenty in the 
city), covered with quick-drying varnish, was 
considered good enough for their material. 
Hundreds of men and women were employed 
at the two factories ; and altogether some 
sixty balloons were turned out during the 
siege. Their management was entrusted to 
sailors, who, of all men, seemed most fitted 
for the work. The only previous training 
that could be given them was to sling them 
up to the roof of the railway stations in a 
balloon car, and there make them go through 
the actions of throwing out ballast, dropping 
the anchor, and pulling the valve-line. This 
was, of course, very like learning to swim on 
dry land ; nevertheless, these amateurs made, 
on the whole, very fair aeronauts. 

But before the first of the new balloons was 
ready experiments were already being made 


with the few old balloons then in Paris. Two 
were moored captive at different ends of the 
town to act as observation stations from 
whence the enemy's movements could be 
watched. Captive ascents were made in them 
every few hours. Meanwhile M. Duruof, a 
professional aeronaut, made his escape from 
the city in an old and unskyworthy balloon 
called " Le Neptune," descending safely out- 
side the enemy's lines, while another equally 
successful voyage was made with two small 
balloons fastened together. 

And then, as soon as the possibility of 
leaving Paris by this means was fully proved, 
an important new development arose. So 
far, as was shown, tidings of the besieged city 
could be conveyed to the outside world ; but 
how was news from without to reach those 
imprisoned within? The problem was pre- 
sently solved in a most ingenious way. 

There was in Paris, when the siege com- 
menced, a society or club of pigeon-fanciers 
who were specially interested in the breeding 
and training of " carrier " or "homing" pigeons. 
The leaders of this club now came forward 
and suggested to the authorities that, with 
the aid of the balloons, their birds might be 
turned to practical account as letter-carriers. 
The idea was at once taken up, and hence- 
forward every balloon that sailed out of Paris 
contained not only letters and despatches, but 
also a number of properly trained pigeons, 


which, when liberated, would find their way 
back to their homes within the walls of the 
besieged city. 

When the pigeons had been safely brought 
out of Paris, and fallen into friendly hands be- 
yond the Prussian forces, there were attached 
to the tail feathers of each of them goose 
quills, about two inches long, fastened on by a 
silken thread or thin wire. Inside these were 
tiny scraps of photographic film, not much 
larger than postage stamps, upon which a large 
number of messages had been photographed 
by microscopic photography. So skilfully was 
this done that each scrap of film could contain 
2500 messages of twenty words each. A bird 
might easily carry a dozen of these films, for 
the weight was always less than one gramme, 
or 15£ grains. One bird, in fact, arrived in 
Paris on the 3rd of February carrying eighteen 
films, containing altogether 40,000 messages. 
To avoid accidents, several copies of the same 
film were made, and attached to different birds. 
When any of the pigeons arrived in Paris their 
despatches were enlarged and thrown on a 
screen by a magic-lantern, then copied and 
sent to those for whom they were intended. 

This system of balloon and pigeon post 
went on during the whole siege. Between 
sixty and seventy balloons left the city, carry- 
ing altogether nearly 200 people, and two 
and a half million letters, weighing in all 
about ten tons. The greater number of 


these arrived in safety, while the return jour- 
neys, accomplished by the birds, were scarcely 
less successful. The weather was very un- 
favourable during most of the time, and cold 
and fogs prevented many pigeons from making 
their way back to Paris. Of 360 birds brought 
safely out of the city by balloon only about 
60 returned, but these had carried between 
them some 100,000 messages. 

Of the balloons themselves two, each with its 
luckless aeronaut, were blown out to sea and 
never heard of more. Two sailed into Ger- 
many and were captured by the enemy, three 
more came down too soon and fell into the 
hands of the besieging army near Paris, and 
one did not even get as far as the Prussian 
lines. Others experienced accidents and 
rough landings in which their passengers were 
more or less injured. Moreover, each balloon 
which sailed by day from the city became 
at once a mark for the enemy's fire ; so much 
so that before long it became necessary to 
make all the ascents by night, under cover 
of darkness. 

They were brave men indeed who dared 
face the perils of a night voyage in an un- 
tried balloon, manned by an unskilled pilot, 
and exposed to the fire of the enemy, into 
whose hands they ran the greatest risk of 
falling. It is small wonder there was much 
excitement in Paris when it became known 
that the first of the new balloons made during 


the siege was to take away no less a personage 
than M. Gambetta, the great statesman, who 
was at the time, and for long after, the leading 
man in France. He made his escape by 
balloon on the 7th of October, accompanied 
by his secretary and an aeronaut, and man- 
aged to reach a safe haven, though not before 
they had been vigorously fired at by shot 
and shell, and M. Gambetta himself had 
actually been grazed on the hand by a 

Another distinguished man who hazarded the 
same perilous feat, though for a very different 
reason, was M. Janssen, a famous astronomer. 
On the 22nd of December of that year there 
was to take place an important total eclipse 
of the sun, which would be visible in Spain 
and Algeria. It had long been M. Janssen's 
intention to observe this eclipse, and for this 
purpose he had prepared a special telescope 
and apparatus ; but when the time drew near 
he found himself and his instruments shut up 
in besieged Paris, with no possible means of 
escape except the dangerous and desperate 
hazard of a voyage by sky. 

But so great was the astronomer's en- 
thusiasm for his work, that he resolved to 
brave even this risk. Taking the essential 
parts of his telescope with him, and, as aero- 
naut, an active young sailor, he set sail in 
the darkness of a winter's morning, long 
before dawn, passed safely over the enemy's 


lines, and continued the voyage till nearly 
mid-day, when they sighted the sea, and 
came down near the mouth of the river 
Loire, having travelled 300 miles in little 
more than five hours. Neither Janssen or 
his telescope were injured in the descent, 
though the wind was high at the time ; and 
both reached Algeria in time for the eclipse. 
It must have been a most bitter disappoint- 
ment to the ardent astronomer, after all his 
exertions, that when the great day arrived 
the sun was hidden by clouds, and he was 
unable to observe the sight for which he had 
risked so much. 

Since the Franco-Prussian war, military 
ballooning has been largely developed, and 
now all great armies possess their properly 
equipped and trained balloon corps. The 
balloons in use in the British Army at the 
present day are made, not of silk, but of gold- 
beater's skin, a very thin, but extremely tough 
membrane prepared from the insides of oxen. 
This is, of course, much stronger and more 
durable than ordinary balloon fabric, but much 
more expensive. The balloons are compara- 
tively small ones, of 10,000 feet capacity, and 
are inflated with hydrogen. The hydrogen is 
now no longer made upon the field, but is 
manufactured in special factories, and carried 
compressed in large steel cylinders. By this 
means the time occupied in filling the balloon 
is much reduced, but the weight of the 


cylinders is very great. As will be remem- 
bered, balloons were made of considerable use 
during the late Boer War. At the siege of 
Ladysmith they were thought of much value 
in directing the fire of the British Artillery, 
and again at Spion Kop and Magersfontein 
are said to have done good service. 

So far we have shown of what use balloons 
may be in times of peace and war. Every 
year sees fresh improvements and develop- 
ments in balloons for military purposes and in 
those employed for making meteorological and 
other similar observations ; and there is no 
doubt that great advances may shortly be 
expected in both these directions. But there 
is yet another and totally different science to 
which the balloon may lend its aid, and help 
greatly to add to our knowledge ; and this is 
the science of geography, or the study of the 
earth's surface. 

One of the earliest ideas suggested by Mont- 
golfier's invention was that the balloon might 
be turned to practical account in the exploring 
of unknown and inaccessible tracts of the world. 
It was suggested that in a balloon men might 
sail over and survey country that they were 
not able to reach in any other way. Deserts 
could be crossed in this fashion, forests and 
mountain ranges, and even the desolate ice- 
tracts of the North and South Poles. 

All this is, in truth, perfectly possible, and 
another day may be accomplished ; but at 


present great difficulties and dangers stand in 
the way of exploring by balloon, and up to 
the present time, with one great exception, 
no special attempt has been made. It has 
already been mentioned that both Wise and 
Green wished to cross the Atlantic by sky, 
and indeed at the present moment plans are 
actually being made on the Continent for a 
similar voyage. This, however, can scarcely 
be called exploring. Other suggestions 
which may presently be put to the test 
are the crossing of the Sahara, and also of 
another great desert in Central Arabia, into 
which no white man has ever succeeded in 
penetrating. Recent expeditions both to the 
North and South Poles have also taken with 
them balloons to be used captive for the 
observation of the state of the ice ahead, 
and for obtaining wide views around. 

The one great attempt at exploring by 
balloon which has so far been made has, un- 
fortunately, met with hopeless and terrible 
disaster — this was the ill-fated voyage to the 
North Pole of Andree and his companions. 
The idea of reaching the Pole by balloon 
was first proposed many years ago, and both 
French and English aeronauts at different 
times have made suggestions as to the best 
way in which it might be accomplished. 
Nothing, however, was attempted until about 
the year 1894, when M. S. A. Andree, a well- 
known Swedish balloonist, who had already 


met with exciting experiences in the air, made 
up his mind actually to risk the venture. 

His plan was to take a suitable balloon, and 
the apparatus for inflating it, to a place as far 
north as a ship could safely go, then to fill 
the balloon and wait for a favourable wind 
which should carry him right over the Pole and 
beyond until inhabited country was reached. 
By the summer of 1896 all his preparations 
were complete. His balloon was an enormous 
one, capable of holding 162,000 cubic feet of 
gas, and was fitted Avith a rudder sail and a 
long trail-rope, by means of which Andree 
hoped to be able to some extent to steer his 
course across the ice. Two companions were 
to accompany him on his voyage, and on June 
7th the party embarked with all their appa- 
ratus, and were conveyed to Spitzbergen. 

They landed at Dane's Island, where their 
first work was to build themselves a shed. 
They then got their gas-making apparatus 
into order, and filled the balloon, and by the 
27th of July were all ready for a start. But 
the wind was contrary, and day after day they 
waited in vain for a change, until at last the 
captain of the ship which had brought them 
warned them they would be frozen in for the 
winter unless they returned without delay. 
Very reluctantly, therefore, they abandoned 
their venture for that year, and went home, 
leaving behind them the shed and gas-gener- 
ator for another occasion. 


The winter passed, and by the end of next 
May they were back again at Dane's Island. 
Their shed and apparatus had suffered damage 
during their absence, and had to be repaired, 
and their preparations were not complete until 
the end of June. But again the wind was 
contrary, and for three weeks more they waited 
impatiently. All this while the balloon re- 
mained inflated, and by the long delay must 
have lost a considerable amount of its buoy- 
ancy. At last the wind changed, and though 
it was not exactly in the direction they wished, 
being a little west of south, instead of due 
south, Andree felt he could wait no longer, 
and at half-past two in the afternoon of July 
11th set sail, with his two friends, on his daring 

What followed is soon told. Eleven days 
later one of the carrier pigeons taken by 
Andree in his balloon was picked up by a 
fishing-boat off Spitzbergen. Fastened to it 
was the following message: — "July 13th,' 
12.30 p.m. 82° 2' north lat., 15° 5' east long. 
Good journey eastward. All goes well on 
board. — Andree." 

This was the latest news ever heard of the 
ill-fated voyagers. Later on two of Andree's 
buoys, thrown out from the balloon, were 
found ; but the messages these contained were 
dated on the evening of July 11th, only a few 
hours after the start. If the date of the first 
found message can be relied on, it would seem 


that after forty-eight hours Andree's balloon 
was still sailing well, and he had already 
accomplished the longest voyage aloft ever 

Of his subsequent fate, and that of his com- 
panions, nothing is known. Search expedi- 
tions have failed to find any trace of them or 
of the balloon, and the many rumours received 
have been proved to be false. There can be 
no possible reason to doubt that these brave 
men perished in their daring attempt, and that 
their bones lie in the Arctic Sea or in the waste 
of ice and snow that surrounds the Pole. 



So far in our story we have traced the origin 
and progress of the balloon, showing how from 
small beginnings it has grown to be an im- 
portant invention, of great use to the scientific 
observer, the soldier, and the explorer, and the 
means of teaching us much fresh knowledge. 

But in spite of the high hopes of early 
aeronauts, and the extravagant prophecies 
made when the first balloons ascended into 
the sky, it has long been evident that the 
balloon alone has not solved the problem of 
human flight or accomplished the conquest 


of the air. An ordinary balloon is, in fact, 
nothing more than a mere lifting machine, 
no more capable of sailing the sky, in the 
proper sense of the word, than a cork floating 
in the water is capable of sailing the sea. It 
has no movement of its own, but drifts simply 
at the mercy of the wind, and quite beyond 
control. By the discharge of ballast, or by 
the letting out of gas, the aeronaut can indeed 
cause it to rise or sink at pleasure, and some- 
times when two currents of air are blowing 
aloft in different directions at the same time 
he may, by passing from one to the other, 
" tack " his balloon to some extent across the 
sky. Otherwise he has no power of guiding 
or directing it in the least degree, and should 
he lose sight of the earth above the clouds, 
has even no method of telling in which 
direction he is travelling. 

Early inventors thought they would be able 
to steer balloons by means of sails, like a boat, 
but they soon found that this was impossible. 
The effect of hoisting a sail at the side of 
a balloon was merely to swing the balloon 
round until the sail was in front, while mean- 
time it continued its course unaltered. The 
use of a rudder and other means were also 
tried, but without success ; nor can such 
methods ever hope to succeed so long as a 
balloon floats in the air at the same pace as 
the wind that carries it forward. A balloon 
travelling with the wind may be compared 


to a boat drifting idly with the tide. As 
long as she drifts she refuses to answer her 
rudder, which swings idly. But presently the 
boatman hoists a sail, and the wind carries the 
boat onwards faster than the tide, and then 
immediately the rudder comes into action. 
Or should there be no wind, he may accom- 
plish the same thing by dragging an anchor 
or other weight in the water, and so slowing 
his boat down until it moves slower than 
the current ; he will then again find that his 
boat will answer her helm. 

To steer his course in a balloon, therefore, 
the aeronaut must so arrange that he is 
travelling faster or slower than the wind in 
which he finds himself. To travel faster, he 
must employ some sort of engine or motor 
to drive his craft onwards. To travel slower, 
he must trail something along the ground 
beneath to act as a drag. 

Part of the equipment of every balloon is 
a long trail-rope, which, when the balloon 
is aloft, hangs some 300 feet below the car. 
The object of this rope is to break the force 
of the fall when the balloon comes down to 
the earth at the end of the voyage. In the 
greater number of cases a balloon, in its final 
swoop to the ground, falls the last few hundred 
feet with considerable, and often uncomfort- 
able, speed. But when provided with a trail- 
rope, as it descends more and more of the 
heavy rope will lie along the ground, and so 


lighten the weight of the balloon, and lessen 
the shock of falling. 

If then a trail-rope were used of such length 
that it would sweep along the ground while 
the balloon was flying in the air, the effect 
would be to put a drag or brake on the 
balloon, and so render it capable of being 
steered to some extent with a sail ; and this 
is what has actually been done in all attempts 
of the kind. But since a long rope dragging 
rapidly across the country is a very dangerous 
object, capable of doing great damage, and 
also liable to catch in trees and other obstacles, 
such experiments can only be tried with safety 
over the sea, or, as in the case of Andree's 
voyage, over desert or uninhabited country. 

The best way of steering a balloon, there- 
fore, is to provide it with some mechanical 
power which shall urge it onwards at a greater 
speed than the wind ; and when this is done, 
it has ceased to be a balloon in the popular 
sense of the word, and has become an " air- 

There is a great deal of confusion between 
the terms "airship," and "flying machine," 
and the two words are often considered as 
meaning the same thing. But while, strictly 
speaking, neither word in itself has any very 
definite meaning, it is gradually becoming 
more general to apply them to two widely 
different objects. According to this plan, 
although both names stand for an aerial vessel 


capable of travelling in the sky by its own 
motion, an airship is a machine supported 
in the air by reason of its buoyancy, while 
a flying machine is kept aloft only by virtue 
of its onward movement. 

In other words, part of the construction of 
an airship consists of a bag or balloon, filled 
with gas or hot air, which causes the whole 
to rise and maintain its position in the air. 
This balloon part is quite independent of the 
machinery which drives the airship forward, 
and indeed if the engine ceases working, the 
vessel becomes nothing more than an ordinary 
balloon in its nature, and will behave like 
one. An airship, therefore, is in principle 
an apparatus lighter than air. 

A flying machine, on the contrary, is 
heavier than air, and maintains its position 
aloft merely by the power it obtains from its 
engines, assisted by its special construction. 
The inventors of flying machines take as 
their analogy the flight of birds. Birds are 
creatures heavier than air, which yet manage 
to rise and fly by reason of the strength and 
construction of their wings. In the same 
way the heavy flying machine essays to fly 
by the power of its machinery. And, as a 
bird aloft, if its wings became disabled, would 
instantly drop towards earth, so a flying 
machine would immediately commence to 
fall if its engine stopped or ceased to move 
with sufficient power. The airship and the 


flying machine, therefore, may be regarded 
as rival aerial vessels, and their inventors and 
advocates, sometimes known as " light er-than- 
air-ites" and " heavier-than-air-ites," though 
both working for the same end, are endeavour- 
ing to accomplish their aim by widely different 

Up to the present day the airship — to which 
we will first turn our attention — has been 
much more largely and successfully experi- 
mented with than the flying machine. It is, 
however, the opinion of many, including the 
great authority Sir Hiram Maxim, that in the 
future the flying machine will become the 
more important invention of the two. " In 
all Nature," says Sir Hiram, " we do not find 
a single balloon. All Nature's flying machines 
are heavier than air." And from this he argues 
that, as Nature is ever our best guide and ex- 
ample, a flying machine heavier than air will 
be in the end most likely to succeed. 

One of the earliest airships which achieved 
any success was invented by a Frenchman, 
M. Giffard, about the year 1852. He made 
his balloon of an elongated or cigar shape, a 
form adopted by airship inventors as offering 
less resistance to the air than the ordinary 
globular or pear shape. To this balloon, 
which was 104 feet long and 39 feet in 
diameter, he attached a steam-engine of 
three-horse power, weighing 462 lbs. and 
working a screw-propeller, which, by its 


rapid revolutions, urged the balloon onwards 
through the air, even as the screw of a steam- 
ship urges the vessel through the water. 
With this apparatus he succeeded on one 
occasion, for a very short while, in obtaining a 
speed of six and a half miles an hour. Twenty 
years later another Frenchman, M. Dupuy de 
Lome, constructed another airship ; but fearing 
to place an engine so near the gas of his bal- 
loon, he used the strength of eight men to work 
his screw. This was a very wasteful mode of 
supplying energy, for the weight of the men 
was very great in proportion to their strength, 
and this machine, during its trial, did not 
attain as great a speed as GifFard's. Twelve 
years after a third Frenchman, M. Tissandier, 
took up the same experiments. His elongated 
balloon was smaller than the two previous, 
and his engine was an electric motor of one 
and a half horse-power. On one occasion 
a speed of nearly eight miles an hour was 

By this time the French Government had 
become interested in the work, and provided 
money to continue investigations. The result 
of this was that in 1885 two officers of the 
French army, Captains Renard and Krebs, 
brought out by far the most successful airship 
yet constructed. It was 165 feet long, 27 feet 
in diameter, and was driven by an electric 
motor of nine horse-power. That this machine 
proved itself perfectly capable of being guided 


in the air is amply shown by the fact that 
it returned to its shed five times out of the 
seven on which it was publicly taken out. 
It also attained a speed of fourteen miles an 
hour, and indeed it would seem that Renard 
and Krebs, although their names are now 
almost forgotten, accomplished nearly as great 
things twenty years ago as the popular air- 
ship inventors of the present day. 

One of the greatest difficulties with which 
early inventors had to contend was the enor- 
mous weight of their engines. The machinery 
they were obliged to use to drive their airships 
through the air weighed more than their bal- 
loons, unless made of unwieldy size, had power 
to lift. The same difficulty indeed exists at 
the present time, though to a much less degree. 
Of late years, and especially since the intro- 
duction of the motor-car, great progress has 
been made in the construction of light but 
powerful engines, or motors, and the employ- 
ment of petrol vapour instead of coal or oil 
has very greatly lessened the weight of the 
fuel which has to be carried. 

In consequence Of this improvement many 
airships have recently been made which have 
met with varying success, and many more are 
at the present moment in process of construc- 
tion. Among the host of inventors, whose 
names it would here be impossible even to men- 
tion, three stand out from the rest in special 
prominence — Zeppelin, Santos Dumont, and 


Stanley Spencer — all three the inventors of 
airships which have, by actual experience, 
proved their power of steering a course across 
the sky. 

Of these rival airships, by far the largest 
and most elaborate was that built by the first 
named, Count Zeppelin, a distinguished vet- 
eran soldier of the German army. For many 
years he had spent his time and fortune in 
making experiments in aerial navigation, and 
at length in 1900, having formed a company 
and collected a large sum of money for the 
purpose, he produced an enormous airship, 
which, from its size, has been compared to a 
man-of-war. In shape Count Zeppelin's in- 
vention resembled a gigantic cigar, 420 feet in 
length, pointed at both ends. The frame- 
work was made of the specially light metal 
aluminium, covered over with silk, and though 
from outside it looked all in one piece, within 
it was divided into seventeen compartments, 
each holding a separate balloon made of oiled 
silk and absolutely gas-tight. The object of 
this was to prevent the tendency the gas has 
to collect all at one end as the ship forces its 
way through the air. These balloons were 
filled with pure hydrogen, the cost of the infla- 
tion alone being £500. Beneath was slung a 
long gangway, 346 feet in length, with two 
cars, also made of aluminium, attached to it, 
In these cars were placed two motor-engines 
of sixteen horse-power each, driven by benzine,. 



and working a pair of screw-propellers attached 
to the balloon. A steering apparatus was 
placed at each end, and the whole machine, 
with five passengers, weighed about eleven 

To lessen the effects of a possible fall, the 

Zeppelin's Aieship over Lake Constance. 

experiments were carried out over water, and 
the great airship was housed in a shed built on 
Lake Constance. The cost of this shed alone 
was enormous, for it was elaborately con- 
structed on pontoons, and anchored in such 
a way that it could be turned round to allow 
the airship to be liberated from it in the best 


direction to suit the wind. The trial trip was 
made one evening in June 1900, when a very 
light wind was blowing. The great machine 
rose into the air, carrying Zeppelin and four 
companions to a height of 800 feet. The 
steering apparatus then being put into action, 
it circled round and faced the wind, remained 
stationary for a short while, and then sank 
gracefully and gently upon the water. A few 
days later another and more successful trial 
was made. The wind at the time was blow- 
ing at sixteen miles an hour, but in spite of 
this the airship slowly steered its course against 
the wind for three and a half miles, when, one 
of the rudders breaking, it was obliged to come 
down. On one or two other occasions also it 
made successful voyages, proving itself to be 
perfectly manageable and capable of being 
steered on an absolutely calm day. The expense 
of the experiments was, however, tremendous ; 
money fell short, and the great machine, the 
result of many years' labour and thought, has 
since been abandoned and broken up. 

A far happier fate has so far attended the 
efforts of the brave young Brazilian, Albert 
Santos Dumont. The wealthy son of a suc- 
cessful coffee-planter, he had always from his 
boyhood been keenly interested in aeronautics, 
and, coming to Paris, he constructed in 1898 
an airship of a somewhat novel kind. His 
balloon was cigar-shaped, 83 feet long, and 
holding 6500 feet of pure hydrogen. At- 



tached to the balloon, and working a propeller, 
was a small motor like those used for motor 
cycles, and astride of this Santos Dumont 

Santos Dumont's Airship. 

rode, bicycle fashion, steering his course with 
a rudder. In this ingenious machine he 
ascended from the Botanical Gardens in Paris 
and circled several times round the large 
captive balloon then moored there, after which 


he made a number of bold sweeps in the air, 
until an accident occurred to his engine and 
he came precipitately to the ground. Though 
shaken he was by no means discouraged, and 
declared his intention of continuing his ex- 
periments until he should have invented an 
airship which, in his own words, should 
be " not a mere plaything, but a practical 
invention, capable of being applied in a 
thoroughly useful fashion." 

Accordingly he constructed one machine 
after another, gaining fresh knowledge by 
each new experience, and profiting by the acci- 
dents and failures which continually beset him 
in his dangerous and daring work. Before 
long also he received an additional incentive 
to his labours. Early in the year of 1900 it 
was announced by the Paris Aero Club, a 
society of Frenchmen interested in aero- 
nautical matters, that one of its members, 
M. Deutsch, had offered a prize of 100,000 
francs — about £4000 — to the man who, start- 
ing from the Aero Club grounds at Long- 
champs in a balloon or flying machine, should 
steer his course right round the Eiffel Tower 
and back to the starting-place — a distance of 
three and a half miles — within half an hour. 
If the prize were not won within a certain 
time, his" offer was to be withdrawn, and 
meanwhile he promised a certain sum of 
money every year for the encouragement of 
aeronautical experiments. 


The offer of this reward set many inventors 
to work upon the construction of various 
aerial vessels of all kinds, but from the begin- 
ning Santos Dumont was well to the fore. 
By the middle of 1901 he had completed what 
was his sixth airship — a cigar-shaped balloon, 
100 feet long, its propeller worked by a motor- 
car engine of fifteen horse-power — and with it, 
on July 15th, he made a splendid attempt for 
the prize. Starting from the Club grounds, 
he reached the Eiffel Tower in thirteen 
minutes, and, circling round it, started back 
on his homeward journey. But this time his 
voyage was against the wind, which was really 
too strong for the success of his experiment ; 
part of his engine broke down, and the balance 
of the vessel became upset ; and although he 
managed to fight his way back to the starting- 
point, he arrived eleven minutes behind time, 
and so failed to fulfil M. Deutsch's conditions. 

Again, on the 9th of August, having in the 
meantime made further trials with his machine, 
he embarked on another attempt to carry off 
the prize. He chose the early hours of the 
morning, starting shortly after six from the 
Club grounds, where only a few friends, among 
them the keenly interested M. Deutsch, were 
present. The day was apparently perfect, and 
when, after the lapse of five minutes only, he 
had reached the Tower and swung gracefully 
round it, every one was convinced that this 
time the prize was certain to be won. But 


the homeward journey was all against the 
wind, which was blowing more powerfully 
aloft than on the ground, and suddenly the 
onlookers were horrified to see the fore part of 
the balloon double right back. By so doing 
the silken envelope became torn and the gas 
began escaping. Rapidly the balloon appeared 
to wither up and shrink together. The engine 
was seen still to be working, though no pro- 
gress was now being made. Then the whole 
apparatus collapsed utterly, and fell with sick- 
ening speed upon the house-tops. 

Deutsch and his companions watched the fall 
horror-struck, and jumping into their motor- 
cars hurried to the spot, convinced that a fatal 
accident must have occurred. But they found 
that, although the airship was smashed to 
pieces, its plucky inventor had almost miracu- 
lously escaped unhurt. The wrecked machine 
had fallen upon the roof of a house in such a 
way that the keel had caught upon a corner, 
and the car, which was fastened to it, hung at 
a perilous angle down the side of a wall. For- 
tunately Dumont was secured to his car by a 
leather belt, and he managed to hold on, 
though in considerable danger lest the keel 
should break and let him fall, until rescued by 
a fireman with a rope. His machine was 
hopelessly ruined ; but when asked what he 
intended to do next he merely answered : 
" Begin again. Only a little patience is neces- 


A new machine, "Santos Dumont VII.," 
was ready in less than a month, and tested on 
the 6th of September. It behaved beautifully, 
and all went well until the trail-rope caught 
in a tree. In liberating it the framework be- 
came bent, and the airship was being towed 
back to its shed when a sudden gust of wind 
tore it away from those who held it. It im- 
mediately rose into the air, and on Dumont 
opening the valve the whole collapsed and fell 
to earth with a great shock. Again the lucky 
inventor escaped unhurt, though owning this 
time that he had "felt really frightened." Ten 
days later, in another trial, the airship came 
in contact with some trees, which pierced 
the silk and let out the gas, so that it fell 
precipitately twenty feet. But the aeronaut 
appeared to bear a charmed life, for once more 
he was none the worse for the fall. Several 
other unsuccessful trials followed, and then, 
on the 19th of October, Santos Dumont made 
another grand attempt for the prize. 

Starting with the wind in his favour, his 
machine travelled at the rate of thirty miles 
an hour, and rounded the Eiffel Tower in nine 
minutes. But in the journey homewards the 
airship had to struggle with a wind blowing 
at thirteen miles an hour. In endeavouring 
to "tack" the machinery became upset, and 
Dumont, leaving his car, crawled along the 
framework to the motor, which he succeeded 
in putting in order again. But this naturally 


occasioned some delay, and though he accom- 
plished the rest of his journey in eight minutes, 
the Committee at first decided he had exceeded 
the allotted time by forty seconds, and so had 
lost the prize. Great popular indignation was 
excited by this decision, for public sympathy 
was all with the daring and persistent young 
Brazilian, and M. Deutsch himself was most 
anxious he should receive the award. Finally, 
he was considered to have fairly won it, and 
the money, which he afterwards divided among 
the poor, was formally presented to him. 

Early in the next year Santos Dumont con- 
tinued his experiments at Monaco, and on one 
occasion came down in the sea, and had to be 
rescued in the Prince of Monaco's own steam 
yacht. After this there was a talk of further 
voyages being made in England, but the pro- 
ject came to nothing, and although Dumont 
made other ascents in Paris in the summer of 
1903, he does not appear to have eclipsed his 
previous record. 

But although Santos Dumont came through 
all his accidents and perils so happily, his 
example led to terrible disaster on the part 
of a luckless imitator. In 1902 M. Severo, 
also a Brazilian, was fired with a desire to 
share his fellow-countryman's fame, and he 
also constructed an airship with which he 
proposed to do great things. But while 
Dumont was a skilled aeronaut of large ex- 
perience, as well as a mechanician, Severo 


knew scarcely anything about the subject, 
and had only been aloft once or twice. Proof 
of his ignorance is shown by the fact that his 
motor-engine was placed only a few feet away 
from the valve through which the gas from 
the balloon would escape. 

The ascent took place in Paris early in the 
morning of the 12th of May, and was wit- 
nessed, unhappily, by Severo's wife and son. 
Bidding them good-bye, he stepped into the 
car, and, accompanied by an assistant, rose 
above the town. The balloon rose steadily, 
and appeared to steer well. Then Severo 
commenced to throw out ballast, and when 
the airship had risen 2000 feet it was sud- 
denly seen to burst into a sheet of flame 
A terrible explosion followed, and then the 
whole fell to the ground a hopeless wreck, 
and the two men were dashed to pieces in the 
fall. It is believed that this dreadful disaster, 
which recalls the fate of Pilatre de Rozier, was 
caused by the hydrogen gas, which escaped 
from the valve during the rapid rise, becoming 
ignited by the engine, which, as has been said, 
was placed dangerously close. 

Nor was this, unhappily, the only accident 
of the kind in Paris during the year. Only 
five months later, on the 13th of October, 
Baron Bradsky ascended with an assistant in 
a large airship of his own invention. Through 
faulty construction, the steel wires which fas- 
tened the car to the balloon broke, the two 


became separated, the car fell, and its occu- 
pants were killed on the spot. 

So far, the credit of the only English air- 
ship which has yet flown rests with Mr. 
Stanley Spencer, the well-known aeronaut. 
Mr. Spencer conies of a race of aeronauts. 
His grandfather, Edward Spencer, was the 
great friend and colleague of Charles Green, 
and shared with him some of his chief balloon- 
ing adventures, notably the terrible voyage 
when Cocking lost his life. Green stood 
godfather to Edward Spencer's son, who was 
christened Charles Green after him. He also 
grew up to be an aeronaut, and made several 
inventions and improvements relating to bal- 
loons and flying machines. His love of balloon- 
ing, inherited from his father, has been passed 
on to his children, and his three eldest sons, 
Percival, Arthur, and Stanley, are chief among 
British aeronauts, and indeed have practically 
the monopoly of professional ballooning and 
balloon manufacture in Great Britain. Nor 
have they confined themselves to this country. 
All three have taken their balloons and para- 
chutes to distant parts of the world, and 
among their many hundreds of ascents, both 
abroad and at home, have met with all manner 
of exciting and perilous adventures, though 
never yet with serious mishap. Their know- 
ledge of practical aeronautics, then, is un- 
rivalled, and Mr. Stanley Spencer had the 
experience of three generations to guide 


him when, in 1902, he set to work to 
build an airship which he had long been 

His first machine was a comparatively small 
one, capable only of lifting a light man. It 
took the usual form of a cigar-shaped balloon, 
the framework of which was built of bamboo, 
driven forward by a screw-propeller worked by 
a small petrol engine. Warned by the fate 
of the unfortunate Severo, Mr. Spencer placed 
his engine far away from the valve. Profiting 
also by Santos Dumont's experience, he con- 
structed his balloon in such a manner that, 
should it become torn and the gas escape, the 
empty silk would collapse into the form of a 
parachute and break the fall. Furthermore, 
there was an arrangement by which, while 
aloft, ordinary air could be forced into the 
balloon to replace any loss of gas, and so 
keep the silk always fully inflated and "taut " 
— a very important factor in a machine that 
has to be driven forward through the atmos- 

With this airship Mr. Spencer, as also his 
equally daring wife, made several highly suc- 
cessful trials at the Crystal Palace, when it 
was found to steer well and answer its helm 
most satisfactorily. Mr. Spencer also made 
two long voyages, from London and from 
Blackpool, on both of which occasions he 
found he could manoeuvre his airship with 
considerable success, make circular flights, 


and sail against the wind, provided it was 
blowing only at moderate speed. 

Encouraged by his success, he next built a 
similar but much larger machine, nearly a 
hundred feet long, holding 30,000 cubic feet 
of gas, and driven by a petrol motor of twenty- 
four horse-power. In this case the propeller, in- 
stead of being placed at the rear, as in general, 
is at the front of the airship, thereby pulling 
it forward through the air instead of pushing 
it from behind. By this arrangement Mr. 
Spencer thinks his balloon would have less 
tendency to double up when urged against a 
strong wind. The steering is done by a rudder 
sail at the stern, and to cause his machine to 
sail higher or lower, the aeronaut points its 
head up or down by means of a heavy balance- 

This new airship was ready by the summer 
of 1 903, but the unfavourable weather of that 
stormy season again and again interfered with 
the experiments. On the 17th of September 
Mr. Spencer announced his intention of sailing 
from the Crystal Palace round the dome of 
St. Paul's, and returning to his starting-place. 
The Cathedral was indeed safely reached, but 
the increasing breeze, now blowing half a gale, 
baffled all his attempts to circle round. Again 
and again, till his hands were cut and bleeding 
with the strain of the ropes, he brought his 
machine up, quivering, to the wind, but all to 
no purpose, until at length, abandoning the 


attempt, he sailed with the current to Barnet. 
More favourable results may doubtless be 
looked for with better weather conditions. 

In France during 1903 the brothers Lebaudy 
made some successful trips with an airship of 
their own construction. Many other airships 
are now being built in all parts of the world, 
in preparation for the aeronautical competi- 
tions to take place in America on the occasion 
of the St. Louis Exhibition of this year. 



It is now time we turn our attention from 
the airship to its important rival, the flying 

At first sight it may perhaps appear that 
so far the flying machine has accomplished 
less than the airship, and gives less promise 
of success, since up to the present time no 
flying machine has taken a man any distance 
into the air, or indeed done much more than 
just lift itself off the ground. Nevertheless 
those who have made a study of the matter 
are full of hope for the future. Many experts 
declare that already the limits of what can 
be done with the airship, which depends upon 
the lifting power of its gas to raise it and 


to sustain it in the air, are being reached. It 
has indeed been proved that on a calm 
day, or with only a light breeze, this form 
of sky vessel can be steered safely about the 
heavens, and doubtless as engines are con- 
structed yet lighter and more powerful in 
proportion to their weight, more successful 
voyages still will be accomplished. But it 
is extremely doubtful whether an airship 
can ever be constructed which shall be able 
to stand against a gale of wind. 

So long as a balloon sails only with the 
breeze it offers no resistance to the force of 
the wind, and can be made of the lightest 
and thinnest material. But directly it has to 
face the wind, and fight its way against it 
as an airship must do, then it has to be 
made of sufficient strength and rigidity to 
withstand the wind's power, or it will be 
blown to pieces. To make so large a thing 
as an airship withstand a rough wind, it 
must be built of very strong and rigid 
materials. To do this means to add to the 
weight of the machine. To lift the increased 
weight, a larger machine which can hold 
more gas is needed. The larger the machine 
the more surface it offers to the wind, and 
the stronger therefore must be its construc- 
tion. It will now be seen that we are arguing 
in a circle, and we can understand that a point 
must be reached in the making of airships 
when, with our present materials, the advan- 


tage gained by increase of strength will be 
more than counterbalanced by increased 
weight. On this point Sir Hiram Maxim 
says : " It is not possible to make a balloon, 
strong enough to be driven through the air 
at any considerable speed, at the same time 
light enough to rise in the air ; therefore 
balloons must always be at the mercy of a 
wind no greater than that which prevails 
at least 300 days in the year;" adding, 
"Those who seek to navigate the air by 
machines lighter than air have, I think, come 
practically to the end of their tether." 

With the flying machine, on the contrary, 
the same difficulty does not arise. Since it 
is at all times heavier than air, and is kept 
aloft simply by its motive power and mechan- 
ism, its weight is of no consequence, pro- 
vided only its engine is sufficiently powerful. 
It may, therefore, be built as rigidly as need 
be, while, from its size — which is much 
smaller in proportion to its lifting power than 
in the case of the airship— and also from 
its construction, it is much less liable to be 
affected by the wind. 

In constructing a flying machine which is 
heavier than air the inventor has before him 
two examples of bodies which, though heavier 
than the atmosphere, yet contrive to rise up- 
wards into the sky ; these are, firstly, birds, and 
secondly, the familiar schoolboy toys, kites. 
To imitate the flying powers of birds and 


kites, he must first understand the means by 
which their flight is accomplished ; and he 
will find, on examination, that to a large 
extent the same principle underlies each — the 
principle of what is termed the " aeroplane." 
As we watch birds — especially large birds, 


as hawks and gulls— winging their way about 
the sky, we may notice that their flight is 
accomplished in two ways ; either they are 
moving through the air by flapping their 
wings up and down, or else with wings wide 
outstretched they are soaring or sailing in the 
air for long times together without apparently 
moving their wings at all. Certain birds, such 
as vultures and albatrosses, possess this power 


of soaring flight to an extraordinary degree, 
and the exact way in which they keep them- 
selves poised aloft is indeed still a mystery. 
We cannot, however, as we watch, say, a 
hawk, hovering in the air with motionless 
wing, help being struck by its resemblance 
to the schoolboy's kite, kept afloat high in 
the sky by the action of the wind properly 
applied to its surface, and we can at once 
see that the bird makes use of the same 
principle as the kite in its soaring or hovering 
flight. Indeed, just as a kite sinks to earth 
when the wind drops, so in a dead calm even 
an albatross has to flap its wings to keep 

It is to the principle of the kite, therefore, 
that the inventor of the flying machine must 
turn. He must adapt the same principle to 
his apparatus, and this he does in his aeroplane, 
which, as will be seen, is an all-important 
part of his machine, and which, in its simplest 
form, is nothing more or less than a kite. 

We know that if a light flat body, such 
as a kite, is lying upon the ground, and the 
wind gets under it so as to tilt it, it will be 
lifted by the wind into the air. The string of 
a kite is so adjusted that as the kite rises it 
is still held at an angle to the wind's force, 
and so long as the kite remains tilted at the 
necessary angle so long it will continue to 
rise or poise itself in the air while the wind 
blows. When schoolboys fly their kites they 


choose an exposed spot, and a day when the 
wind is blowing freshly and steadily. One 
boy throws the kite into the air, while another, 
holding the string to which it is fastened, 
draws it tight by running with it against 
the wind. By this means the kite, if rightly 
adjusted, is held at the proper angle to the 
wind, and started without dragging along 
the ground to begin with. As soon as the 
wind has fairly caught the kite and carried 
it up into the air, the boy who holds the 
string need run no longer, but if the breeze 
suddenly fails, and the kite begins to drop, 
he may still keep his toy aloft by running 
quickly along and dragging the kite after 
him ; the artificial wind he thus creates making 
up for the lack of the other. 

Now let us suppose that there is no string 
to hold the kite in proper position, and no 
boy to run with it; but that their places 
are supplied by a motor and propeller to 
drive it through the air ; while at the same 
time it is so balanced as to preserve a fitting 
angle against a wind of its own making. 
We should then have a true flying machine, 
heavier than air, and yet capable of sailing 
through the sky. 

This is the kind of flying machine that 
inventors at the present moment are trying to 
produce. They have, in their machines, to 
reproduce artificially two essential conditions 
that cause a kite to fly. They have to provide 


a substitute for the strength of the wind, and 
also a substitute for the pull of the string which 
keeps the kite at the best angle to profit by 
that strength. The first they achieve by using 
a suitable engine or motor, and the second by 
supplying it with what are called " aeroplanes " 
— large flat surfaces, light but rigid, inclined 
at a suitable angle to the horizon. By the use 
of these the power of the engine is employed to 
best advantage in causing the machine to sail 
through the sky. 

The great advantage of the aeroplane over 
any other mode of flying is thus described by 
Major Baden-Powell, one of our greatest living 
authorities on aeronautical matters : " When 
people realise that in the case of the aeroplane 
a contrivance like the awning of a small steam 
launch is capable of supporting the man and 
the engines, and that in the case of the balloon 
a mass like a big ship is necessary to lift the 
same weight, one can readily understand the 
advantages of the aeroplane, especially when 
to the drawbacks of the bulky balloon are 
added the great difficulties inherent in the 
retention of a large volume of expensive, 
inflammable, and subtle gas, ever varying in 
its density." 

The most successful inventors of flying 
machines at the present day are all Americans, 
though one of them has made his experiments 
on this side of the Atlantic. They are Sir 
Hiram Maxim, inventor of the famous gun, 


and one of the greatest mechanicians living ; 
Professor Langley, Secretary of the Smith- 
sonian Institute, Washington ; and the brothers 

Mr. Maxim, as he then was, commenced 
his experiments in the early nineties. As 
we have already shown, he went to Nature 
for his guide, and in constructing his flying 
machine took as his analogy the flight of 
birds. Birds urge their way onwards in the 
air by reason of the strength of their wings. 
A flying machine must do the same by the 
power of its engine ; and as a bird's wings 
must be strong in proportion to the bird's 
weight, so the strength or horse-power of the 
engine must stand in a certain proportion 
to the number of pounds it weighs. Mr. 
Maxim's first task, therefore, was to discover 
what proportion this must be, and by his 
experiments he arrived at a conclusion which 
Professor Langley in America, working at 
the same task at the same time, but quite 
independently, had also proved to be true, 
namely, that the faster a machine travels 
through the air the greater weight it may 
carry ; or, in other words, the quicker a body 
moves through the atmosphere the less ten- 
dency will it have to fall to the ground. A 
quick-flying bird like an albatross, therefore, 
flies with less exertion, and so could carry a 
greater weight, than a slow-moving bird like a 
goose. It must therefore be to the advantage 



of the flying machine that its engines should 
attain as great a speed as possible. 

Maxim's next task was to construct a suit- 
able engine. Light but powerful engines had 
not then reached the pitch of perfection they 

The Maxim Airship. 

have now, and his results proved at the time a 
perfect revelation of what could be done in 
this direction, and led to great advances beino- 
made. & 

Next came the designing of the great 
machine itself. It was an enormous apparatus, 
weighing over three tons, capable of carrying 
three men, and supported by no less than 4000 


square feet of aeroplanes, placed one above the 
other. Its steam-engine was of 363 horse- 
power, and worked two screws of nearly 18 
feet in diameter. Before such a machine could 
rise from the ground it must first have attained 
a very great forward impetus, and this it was 
to receive by running at a great speed on 
wheels along a railway track specially laid 
down for it. To prevent the apparatus rising 
unduly, a reversed rail was erected a short 
distance above, on which the machine would 
begin to run as soon as it lifted itself off the 
lower track. Along this railway the flying 
machine was tested, and it was found that as 
soon as a speed of thirty-six miles an hour was 
reached the wheels were lifted clear off the 
ground, and were running only upon the upper 
rail. On the last occasion a speed of forty-two 
miles an hour was attained, when the lifting 
power became so great that the restraining rail 
broke away altogether, and the great flying 
machine actually floated in the air for a few 
moments, " giving those on board the sensation 
of being in a boat," until, steam being shut off, 
it fell to the ground and was broken. 

The enormous expense of his experiments 
has not prevented Sir Hiram Maxim from 
repeating them, and he hopes soon to have 
a much improved machine. Nevertheless his 
experience and calculations have been of great 
value to those who would follow in his foot- 
steps, and have proved the possibility of con- 


structing a flying machine which shall fly by 
virtue of its own motion. 

Meanwhile in America Professor Langley 
was experimenting, independently, almost on 
the same lines. He also was bent on producing 
a flying machine, but instead of starting to work 
upon a large apparatus like Maxim, he began 
by making models, and gradually worked his 
way up to bigger things. For many months 
he studied to understand the principle of those 
ingenious little toys sometimes seen, which, by 
means of the tension of a twisted india-rubber 
band, will keep afloat in the air for a few 
seconds. Next he constructed small models 
driven by steam, in which he found his great 
difficulty was in keeping down the weight. 
For years he persevered in his work without 
any great success, until in 1896 he produced 
a model machine which he called an " aero- 
drome." It was quite small, weighing with 
its engine only 25 lbs., and measuring but 
14 feet from tip to tip of its aeroplanes. The 
experiments were made over water, and the 
necessary momentum was given by dropping 
it from a platform 20 feet high. On more 
than one occasion this little flying machine 
rose with great steadiness in the face of the 
wind to a height of 100 feet, moving so 
smoothly that it might have carried a glass 
of water without spilling a drop; and then, 
the steam of its engine being exhausted, sank 
down gracefully upon the water, having flown 


about half a mile in a minute and a half. 
This success encouraged Professor Langley 
next to construct a full-sized flying machine 
on the same lines ; but this on its first voyage 
plunged headlong into the water and was hope- 
lessly damaged. The United States Govern- 
ment have since granted him a sum of money 
to continue his experiments. 

Latest of all the airship inventors, and 
perhaps so far the most successful, are the 
brothers Wright. Up to the date of writing 
this the full details of their work are not yet 
made public, but it is known that on the 17th 
of December 1903, their machine, which con- 
sists of two large aeroplanes driven forward by 
an engine of sixteen horse-power, after being 
started along a short track on level ground, 
rose into the air and flew for about half a 

It remains for us now to make brief mention 
of how men have tried, and are still trying, to 
imitate the soaring or gliding flight of birds 
without the use of machinery to assist them. 
We have seen how an albatross can, when the 
wind is blowing, convert itself, as it were, into 
a kite, and keep aloft in the air for a while 
without moving its wings. Similarly many 
people have attempted, by attaching them- 
selves to a large supporting surface or aero- 
plane, and casting themselves off from a 
height, to glide with the wind across wide 
stretches of country. In this mode of soaring 


flight some have made considerable progress. 
Herr Lilienthal, a German, was perhaps for a 
time the most successful. He started from 
small beginnings, jumping off a spring board 
a few feet high, and gradually increasing the 
height as he became more accustomed to his 
apparatus. Later he had a large artificial 
mound made specially for him, and from the 
top of this he would throw himself into the 
air, and with a favourable wind sail a distance 
of four hundred yards at a considerable height 
above the ground. Lilienthal's experiments, 
however, came to a sad end. On August the 
11th, 1896, after he had glided along in the air 
for about two hundred yards, a sudden gust of 
wind caught the wide-spread wings of his 
apparatus, and tilted it upwards. This caused 
him to lose his balance, and he fell from a 
height of sixty feet and broke his spine. A 
similar accident also caused the death, a few 
years later, of a young Englishman, Mr. 
Percy S. Pilcher, who had been following up 
Lilienthal's experiments. 

The greatest difficulty now to be overcome 
in solving the problem of human flight, whether 
with soaring apparatus or flying machine, may 
be summed up in one word — "balance." Every 
schoolboy knows that the great art of kite- 
flying consists in so adjusting the point of 
attachment of the string and the length of 
the tail that his kite is properly balanced, and 
is not liable to turn over or "dip" when in 


the air. Every observer of birds, too, has 
noticed how largely the question of balance 
enters into their flying. A bird in the air is 
continually and instinctively adjusting its 
wings to its position, and to every puff of 
wind, even as a man on a bicycle is con- 
tinually, though unconsciously, adjusting his 
handle-bar to the inequalities of the road ; 
and as a cyclist requires practice before he 
can ride his machine, or a skater before he 
can keep his feet on the ice, so even a bird 
has to learn how to balance itself before it 
can use its wings. 

Dwellers in the country are familiar with 
the way in which the parent birds teach their 
fledglings to fly, instructing them by example, 
and encouraging them in their first short flights 
until they have become familiar with their 
powers and can balance themselves aright in 
the air. And if even birds, with whom flying 
is an instinct, have to learn the art of balancing 
themselves in the air by practice, how much 
more so must such a clumsy creature as a 
man, to whom flying is entirely unnatural. 
Only by long and painful efforts can he ever 
hope to succeed at all, and unfortunately all 
such efforts are necessarily very danger- 
ous. Many disastrous accidents have already 
occurred, and although great progress has 
been made, and the time may not now 
be far distant when, by means of improved 
machines, men will actually fly, it will 


be at the cost of much labour, and, it is to 
be feared, at the sacrifice of many more 
brave lives. 



In our last chapters we have, in some measure, 
brought our aeronautical history up to the 
present day, though of necessity many im- 
portant points and notable voyages have been 
passed over unnoticed. It now remains to us 
but to gather up the loose ends of the story, 
and then briefly to indicate the direction in 
which we may expect new advances in the 

And, first of all, it may be well to mention 
a few ballooning " records." The largest 
balloon ever known was used as a captive 
at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. It was of 
883,000 cubic feet capacity, and capable of 
lifting more than fifty passengers at a time. 
Other mammoth balloons of almost as great 
dimensions have also been employed for captive 
work; but the largest balloon intended specially 
for " right away " ascents was the " Giant," 
built in Paris in 1863 by M. Nadar. It held 
215,000 cubic feet of gas, and was made of 
22,000 yards of best white silk, at 5s. 4d. a 


yard. The car was particularly elaborate, 
almost as big as a small cottage, being of 
two stories, and divided into several rooms. 
It proved, however, to be a very dangerous 
adjunct, for on the two occasions it was 
used those within received very serious injury 
during rough landings, and it was soon put 
aside and replaced by an ordinary basket. 
None of these monster sky craft appear to 
have been very successful, and at the present 
day the largest balloons in general use do not 
exceed 50,000 or 60,000 cubic feet capacity. 

The honour of the longest aerial voyage 
ever made rests with the unfortunate Andree, 
who, if his dates are to be relied upon, had 
been forty-eight hours aloft in his balloon 
when he despatched his last found message. 
Not far behind in point of time, however, was 
Count de la Vaulx, who in the summer of 
1901 attempted to cross the Mediterranean by 
balloon. Contrary winds in the end baffled 
his venture, and he was forced to descend on 
the deck of a steamer which was following his 
course, but not before he had spent forty-one 
hours in the sky. The year previous the Count 
had also achieved a record long-distance voyage 
in connection with some balloon competitions 
held during the French "Exposition " of 1900. 
Starting from Paris, he descended in Russia, 
1193 miles away, having been aloft thirty-six 
hours all but fifteen minutes. 

For lofty ascents the palm still rests with 


Glaisher and Coxwell, whose famous voyage 
of 1862, when, as related, a height of 37,000 
feet (or seven miles) is said to have been 
reached, has never been equalled. The exact 
altitude attained on this occasion is, however, 
as we have explained, only conjectural, neither 
being capable at the last of taking observa- 
tions, and no height being registered over 
29,000 feet. On July 31st, 1901, two German 
scientists, Dr. Berson and Dr. Suring, ascended 
from Berlin to a registered altitude of 34,400 
feet, or well over six miles. They were pro- 
vided with compressed oxygen to breathe, but 
even then became unconscious during the last 
800 feet of the ascent. Three years before Dr. 
Berson had made a very lofty ascent in England, 
accompanied by Mr. Stanley Spencer, when 
a height of 27,500 feet was reached. A terrible 
accident occurred in connection with a lofty 
scientific ascent made from Paris in 1875 by 
Tissandier, inventor of the airship already 
mentioned, and two companions. Their ob- 
ject was to attain a record height, in which 
they indeed succeeded, reaching 28,000 feet. 
But despite the artificial air they took with 
them to breathe, they all three became un- 
conscious in the extreme upper regions, and 
when, after one of the most awful voyages 
in the whole history of ballooning, Tissandier 
came to himself, it was to find the bodies of 
his two friends stiff and cold beside him in 
the car. 


Coming to the aeronautical work of the 
present day, it is humiliating to have to 
confess that, through lack of public support, 
England has somewhat fallen behind other 
nations. In America and on the Continent 
large sums of money are subscribed for ex- 
periments with balloons, airships, and flying 
machines ; but in our own country all efforts in 
these directions are due to private enterprise 
alone. Among those most keenly interested 
in aeronautical progress may be mentioned 
Mr. P. Alexander, of Bath ; Major Baden- 
Powell, President of the English Aeronauti- 
cal Society ; and the Rev. J. M. Bacon. The 
latter has made many scientific balloon ascents 
for the study of meteorology, acoustics, and 
other kindred sciences, and his observations 
have proved of much interest and value. 
During his voyages he has met with several 
adventures, though no serious mishaps. On 
one occasion, when the writer accompanied 
him, during a night ascent made to observe 
the great shower of Leonid shooting stars 
foretold for the 16th of November 1899, 
the balloon became unmanageable while lost 
above the clouds. For ten hours it refused 
to come down, during much of which time 
the sea was heard beneath, and the voyagers 
believed themselves blown out over the At- 
lantic. A very stormy landing, in which the 
writer broke her arm, was eventually made near 
the coast in South Wales as before mentioned. 


In November 1902, Mr. Bacon, accom- 
panied by Mr. Percival Spencer, crossed the 
Irish Channel by balloon, the second time 
only this dangerous passage has been made, 
the first occasion being the voyage of Mr. 
Windham Sadler, eighty-five years before. 
Mr. Bacon's voyage was partly undertaken for 
the Admiralty, who lent the services of a gun- 
boat to follow the balloon's course over the 
sea. One of the special objects of investiga- 
tion was to test a theory, long held, that from 
a considerable height aloft the bottom of the 
sea becomes visible, even in rough weather 
when the surface is troubled with waves. 
This point was very successfully settled, for 
although the sea was very rough, Mr. Bacon 
not only saw, but succeeded in photographing, 
from a height of 600 feet, the beds of sand and 
rock lying in ten fathoms at the bottom of 
the Irish Channel — a feat never before accom- 

In scientific observations of the upper 
atmosphere a valuable ally to the balloon 
has been found in the kite. The making of 
kites has now reached a high pitch of per- 
fection, and by their means self-recording 
scientific instruments can be raised to vast 
heights in the air, and even men carried aloft 
with safety. A kite which latterly has 
excited much attention is the Cody kite. 
With this, during the autumn of 1903, its 
inventor, a Mexican, hazarded a bold ven- 


ture. Harnessing it to a light boat, and 
waiting for a favourable wind, he started 
from Calais at eight o'clock one November 
evening, and was safely towed all night across 
the Channel, reaching Dover at five the next 

The aeronautical competitions at the St. 
Louis Exhibition, in America, have given 
a great impetus to one branch at least of 
aeronautics, while the labour of many 
scientific workers throughout the whole world 
is directed to the improvement of our present 
modes of exploring the heavens, and the 
turning to best account of the means already 
at our disposal. Never since the days when 
the Montgolfier brothers floated their first 
frail craft has so much interest as now been 
manifested in the conquest of the sky, and 
never has progress been more rapid and sure. 
Whether the day will ever come when man 
will rule the atmosphere as he now does the 
sea is, as yet, uncertain, but there are many 
who hope and believe not only that he will, 
but that the day is not far distant when "the 
birds will no longer hold undisputed sway 
over the empire of the air. 

Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson &* Co. 
Edinburgh <S^ London