"The aerostatic machine was constructed of cloth lined with paper, fastened together on a network of strings fixed to the cloth. It was spherical; its circumference was 110 feet, and a wooden frame sixteen feet square held it fixed at the bottom. Its contents were about 22,000 cubic feet, and it accordingly displaced a volume of air weighing 1,980 1bs. The weight of the gas was nearly half the weight of the air, for it weighed 990 lbs., and the machine itself, with the frame, weighed 500: it was, therefore, impelled upwards with the force of 490 lbs.
Two men sufficed to raise it and to fill it with gas, but it took eight to hold it down till the signal was given. The different pieces of the covering were fastened together with buttons and button-holes. It remained ten minutes in the air, but the loss of gas by the button-holes, and by other imperfections, did not permit it to continue longer. The wind at the moment of the ascent was from the north. The machine came down so lightly that no part of it was broken."
[Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier's description of the first balloon flight, 5 June 1783]
The distinguished geologist and vulcanologist, Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, was, like everyone from his time, captivated by the exploits of Joseph and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier as they developed and tested their hot air balloons in the 1780s.
Faujas assiduously documented all facets of the enterprise in a 2-volume work that became the definitive account of the Montgolfier brothers' famous accomplishments. He included everything from detailed scientific notes about the dimensions and physics of the balloon constructions, to first hand accounts from all of the major figures involved or present for each test flight, as well as reports about rival projects (including the hydrogen balloons of a Mr Charles) that attempted to out-perform or emulate the Montgolfier deeds.
'Description des Expériences de la Machine Aérostatique' was released in 1783/1784 and was soon translated into German as 'Beschreibung der Versuche mit den Aerostatischen Maschinen'.
The following is from a commentary on Faujas' work that was published in England in 'The Monthly Review' towards the end of 1783. It provided the first comprehensive details of the Montgolfier flights for an english speaking audience. I love the dignified excitement...
"An anonymous letter to [Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond] containing a project for steering balloons in every direction, and conjectures on the uses to which they may hereafter be applied, has, we own, given us at least as much entertainment, as we remember to have formerly received from the perusal of the Arabian Fairy Tales.
Not that what he says appears to us altogether repugnant to the laws of nature, but that we found our imaginations warmed by the gigantic idea of our penetrating some day into the wildest and most inhospitable regions of Africa, Arabia, and America, of our crossing chains of mountains hitherto impervious, and ascending their loftiest summits, of our reaching either of the two poles and in short, of our extending our dominion over the creation beyond any thing of which we have now conception.
We must own that the uses of magnetism and electricity have turned out much greater than the world had in any degree conceived, when those phenomena were first discovered, and that those instances give some countenance to the sanguine expectations formed by the admirers of this invention."
- The majority of illustrations above come from the Max Planck Institute : 'Beschreibung der Versuche mit den Aerostatischen Maschinen'. It's a subjective opinion, but I think these are generally better quality. (I believe there are extra illustrations in addition to those in the French original - from vague memory: I downloaded these images nearly a year ago)
- The illustrations above with French writing come from 'Description des Expériences de la Machine Aérostatique' at the Library of Congress.
- The whole of 'Wonderful Balloon Ascents: Or, the Conquest of the Skies' by F. Marion, 1870 is online at World Wide School. The couple of chapters I read were interesting enough.
- Lighter than Air: The Montgolfier Brothers (also: wikipedia)
- History of Balloon Flying / About Hot-Air Balloons (both so-so)
- Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond at wikipedia. (He has some great geology books which I may have to raid one day)
- The final quote above comes from 'Anna Letitia Barbauld's "Washing-Day" and the Montgolfier Balloon' by Elizabeth Kraft (I have no idea what this is: I didn't read the rest of it.)
- The Tissandier Collection at the Library of Congress remains the best source of graphic material relating to ballooning on the web (click 'All the Images')
- nb. The first illustration above, although appearing in Faujas' book, is actually from 1670 - the Jesuit Francesco Lana Terzi's idea for a flying machine (see MIT)