The Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection

The Genesis of Flight

Printed Books  1851 – 1892

Narration By Will Ketterson

Introduction By Tom D. Crouch          

The task of selecting fifty titles from among the thousands of printed books in the Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection is a daunting challenge. My goal has been to illustrate the depth and breadth of the Gimbel collection while describing some of the critically important books that both shaped and recorded the early history of flight.

The list includes significant works of science and engineering that played a key role in the development of flight technology, along with works of fiction that have inspired generations of flight enthusiasts. Solid histories of aeronautics share the list with items that explore the social and cultural impact of aviation. Otto Lilienthal's report of his pioneering glider experiments is included, as is the novel with an aviation theme that Sinclair Lewis wrote for boys. Whether science, fiction, or history, each of these books had an impact on history.

“In 1898 I read your War of the Worlds,” Robert Hutchings Goddard wrote to H. G. Wells in April 1932:

I was sixteen years old, and . . . the compelling realism of the thing made a deep impression. . . . I decided that what might conservatively be called “high altitude research” was the most fascinating problem in existence. . . . How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem, I do not know; I hope as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for “aiming at the stars,” both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.

Such is the power of the printed word to touch a life and through that life to shape a future. Housed in a library that serves the intellectual needs of America's future aerospace leaders are the precious volumes that provided a firm foundation for the age of flight. We owe Colonel Gimbel a great debt.

Tennyson, Alfred, Baron


7th ed. London: Edward Moxon, 1851. xii, 375 p. 17 cm.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) earned high marks for prescience with the publication of "Locksley Hall." The poem is a long monologue in which a young man, disappointed in love and depressed by contemporary social problems, still expresses a solid Victorian faith in progress and the ability of human beings to shape their own destiny. Although the benefits of aerial commerce may be temporarily offset by the terrible vision of "airy navies grappling in the central blue," for example, the battle flags will eventually be "furl'd" and international disputes adjudicated "in the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world."

Tennyson returned to this theme in "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After" (1886). The narrator of the first poem, now an embittered old man, is comfortable with his own lot but no longer hopeful about the future.

Loup, Michel

Solution du Problème de la Locomotion Aérienne: Aperçu Général & Sommaire, Avec 21 Figures à l'Appui, par Michel Loup

Paris: Carilian-Goeury et Victor Dalmont [etc.], 1853. 2 p. l., 75, [3] p. 2 fold. pl. 19.5 cm.
Brockett 7713
Bibliographic note: The copy held by the Gimbel collection is ex libris Gaston Tissandier.

Michel Loup produced the first well-considered French proposal for a powered airplane. The craft was a bird-like monoplane with fixed tandem wings, a tricycle undercarriage, and a large cruciform rudder and elevator. An engine powered twin propellers mounted between each triangular pair of wings.

Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith, the eminent English authority on the prehistory of flight, remarks that Viscount Carlingford, in 1856, designed a tractor monoplane similar to Loup's machine, although it was to be powered by a single tractor propeller mounted on the nose. He apparently constructed a full-scale, unpowered version of this "aerial chariot," which was tested as a kite in Ireland.

[Goodrich, Samuel Griswold]

The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry and His Young Friends over Various Countries in Europe

Ed. by Peter Parley [pseud.] ... New York: J.C. Derby, 1856. viii, [9-312 p.] illus. 19 cm.
D980.G65  1856
[Randers-Pehrson 33]

Bibliographic note: The Gimbel collection holds fourteen Goodrich volumes.  Six of these are editions of the volume described.  Two of those editions, including the volume cited, are 1856 copies.  The others date to 1855, 1857, 1860, and 1866.


A native of Connecticut, Samuel Griswold Goodrich [1793-1860] devoted himself to providing reading material that would entertain, educate, and communicate moral lessons to young people.

Goodrich entered the publishing business in 1816 and issued the first of what would become a series of 116 Peter Parley titles (The Tales of Peter Parley About America) in 1827. Peter Parley was the pseudonym adopted by Goodrich and used for all the authors, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom he hired to produce books for the series.

Goodrich, who also served as a Whig member of the Massachusetts legislature and a U.S. Consul to Paris (1851-1853), was a publishing phenomenon who had sold as many as 7 million books by the time of his death in 1860. In addition, he published two successful children's magazines: Parley's Magazine (founded 1833) and Robert Merry's Museum (founded 1841).

The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry. . . is typical of the Parley volumes. Merry, the central character, leads a group of inquisitive youngsters on an adventurous balloon journey across Europe, during which he provides his young charges with information on history, geography, science, and other matters. Ballooning, the fictional editor explains in the preface, "provides an easy mode of traveling—that of gliding along in the air—and the opportunity it affords to move rapidly from country to country, looking down upon each and studying it like a map—surely must prove an effective mode of impressing their form and appearance upon the mind and memory."

"It is hoped too," Goodrich comments, "that the occasional passages of moral instruction given in the conversations of Robert Merry may be useful, by imparting sound morals and good manners. At all events, it is believed the work may contribute to the innocent pleasure of youthful readers, and for this object it is mainly intended."

Landells, E.

The Boy's Own Toy-Maker: A Practical Illustrated Guide to the Useful Employment of Leisure Hours. . .

Boston: Shepard, Clark, and Brown, 1859.  viii, 153 p. illus. 16 cm.


Books describing magic tricks and scientific experiments that could be performed or interesting toys that could be constructed using commonly available household items were great favorites with nineteenth-century youngsters. Some discussion of the scientific or technical principles involved in the individual projects was often included as a means of underscoring the educational value of the activity. No such book was worth its salt without a sampling of flight-related projects. Landells’ book, typical of the genre, provides step-by-step instructions for the construction of a fire balloon, two kinds of parachutes, and four varieties of kites.

Although the kites and parachutes were harmless enough, the paper fire balloons described by the author, kept aloft by bits of cotton soaked in turpentine, were genuine fire hazards. When Henry James senior, the future father of Henry and William James, was a 13-year-old student at the Albany Academy, he lost a leg after being badly burned attempting to extinguish a fire started by one of his own fire balloons.

Lowe, Thaddeus S[obieski] C[onstantine] 

The Air-Ship City of New York: Full Description of the Air-Ship and the Apparatus to be Employed in the Aerial Voyage to Europe; with a Historical Sketch of the Art of Ballooning, and the Aeronaut's Address to the Public

New York: Baker and Godwin, Printers, 1859.  24 p. incl. front. (port.) pl. 19.5 cm.
TLD 921.C58L8
[Brockett 7736; Randers-Pehrson 36]

Bibliographic note:  In addition to this pamphlet, the Gimbel collection contains the following items by T.S.C. Lowe.  "Balloon Operations in the Civil War," in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series III, v. iii, pp. 252-319.  Washington, D.C., 1899. 23 cm., Gamble 3672; T.S.C. Lowe, Early Aeronautic and Meteorological Investigations. Los Angeles: B.R. Baumgardt, 1895. 31 p. 23 cm.; T.S.C. Lowe, The Latest Development in Aerial Navigation.  [Los Angeles: Aerial Publishing Co., 1910?] 52 p. illus. facsim. 23 cm.


Six feet tall with broad shoulders, clear penetrating eyes, and a sweeping mustache, T.S.C. Lowe (1832-1913) emerged as a leading American aeronaut immediately prior to the Civil War. Born in Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire, he took an early interest in science and, from the age of twenty, earned his living as an itinerant lecturer. He made his first balloon ascent in 1856 and gained experience in a series of flights in the United States and began work on the balloon that was to be known as the City of New York in July 1859. The huge aerostat, designed to fly the Atlantic, had a diameter of 130 feet and stood 200 feet tall from the gas valve on top of the envelope to the keel of the lifeboat dangling beneath the basket. When filled with 725,000 cubic feet of coal gas or city illuminating gas, the balloon would lift an estimated 11.25 tons. Lowe began to inflate the balloon inside New York City's Crystal Palace Exhibition Hall in the fall of 1859. It soon became apparent, however, that the city gas works was not up to the task. Disappointed, Lowe shifted his operation to Philadelphia—and renamed the balloon Great Western. The envelope burst during a renewed attempt at inflation in October 1860. Undaunted, Lowe flew another balloon (named Enterprise) from Cincinnati to the Atlantic coast of South Carolina in April 1861. With the Civil war looming on the horizon, Lowe traveled to Washington, where he lobbied for a balloon reconnaissance effort.

Esterno, Henri Philippe Ferdinand, Comte d.'

Du Vol des Oiseaux; Indication des Sept Lois du
Vol Ramé et des Huit Lois du Vol à Voile, par M. d'Esterno

Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1864. 61 p., 1l. illus. 2 pl. (1 fold.) 20.5 cm.
Brockett 4192;  Gamble 5212

Count Henri Philippe Ferdinand Charles Honoré d'Esterno (1805-1883) was one of the most significant figures in mid-nineteenth-century aeronautics. Esterno was the first to underscore the notion of soaring, the ability of a bird to maintain or even gain altitude without beating its wings. Moreover, the Count called attention to alterations in the shape of a bird's wing as a means of controlling its attitude in the air. It should be noted, however, that Esterno did not fully understand the torsion of the wings as a means of effecting lateral control.

Moreover, in the interesting and advanced aircraft design presented in Du Vol des Oiseaux, the Count provided a moveable seat for the pilot, clearly suggesting that weight shifting would be a key element of the control system. There is little substance to the notion suggested after the invention of the airplane that Esterno was the first to describe the wing torsion control system pioneered by the Wright brothers. Esterno's general impact was, however, considerable.

Turnor, Christopher Hatton

Astra Castra; Experiments and Adventures in the Atmosphere. . .

London: Chapman and Hall, 1865.  xxiii, 530 p. front., illus., plates, ports. 31.5 cm.
Brockett 12110; Gamble 373

Bibliographic note:  The Gimbel collection contains an additional uncatalogued copy of the same edition of this book.

Christopher Hatton Turnor (1840-1914), who listed himself on the title page of Astra Castra as an officer in the Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade, was a founding member of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain (1866), later the Royal Aeronautical Society, and an original member of the governing council of that organization. He is best remembered, however, as the author of this volume, a chronological history of aeronautics from the earliest times to 1864.

Turnor provides a wide range of extracts and translations of flight-related documents, from the myths, legends, and poetry of classical times through the introduction and spread of ballooning, all knit together in a loose fashion with his own prose. The volume is, for its time, very well illustrated. The appendices range from speculative essays on meteorology and astronomy to a bibliography of books on flight and a list of the first 500 balloonists and the dates of their first ascents. For all of its eccentric quality, the book would remain for many years the most comprehensive and accurate treatment of the subject available in English.

The title is drawn from the motto of the Lindsay family: "Astra, Castra, Numen, Lumen." James Fairbairn, Fairbairn's Crests of the Leading Families of Great Britian and Ireland (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1963), confirms that a literal translation of the motto—"Star, Camp, God, Light"—is correct but offers no clue as to its meaning in the context of this volume.

Andrews, Solomon

Aerial Navigation and a Proposal to Form an Aerial Navigation Company, by Solomon Andrews, M.D., The Inventor

(Cover title: The Art of Flying) New York: John F. Trow, 1865. 32 p. 25 cm.
Gamble 3535; Randers-Pehrson 41

Bibliographic note:  The Gimbel collection contains a second facsimile copy of this work, bound with a facsimile of Solomon Andrews, The Aereon, or flying ship, invented by Solomon Andrews.  New York: John F. Trow & Co. Publishers, for the Aerial Navigation Company, 1866. 16 p. 32 cm.  An illustration of "The First Aereon of 1863" is included, apparently as the back cover sheet of the original.

Solomon Andrews, a classic inventor-mechanic, and one-time mayor of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was one of the most persistent of all mid-nineteenth-century American experimenters with dirigible airships. His earliest plans for the navigation of the air dated to the 1840s, but it was not until he returned from a tour of duty as a surgeon with the Union army that he began construction of the first "aereon."

The craft consisted of three 80-foot-long cigar-shaped balloons constructed by aeronaut John Wise. Andrews planned to employ a sort of aeronautical perpetual motion to propel the craft. The force of the air on the top or bottom of the gasbags, which could be angled nose up or down from an operator's car suspended 16 feet beneath the balloons, would cause the vehicle to climb or descend. The momentum built up in a descent could be used to power a climb.

A series of apparently successful flights beginning in 1862 led to initial efforts to interest government officials in the project. When funds were not forthcoming, Andrews established a joint stock venture, which funded work on a second craft in 1866. Additional flights with the new machine were impressive but did not result in the increased funding required to sustain the effort; Andrews was forced to abandon the work.

Verne, Jules

Cinq Semaines en Ballon, Voyage de Découvertes en Afrique par Trois Anglais;  Illustrations par MM. Riou et De Montaut

Paris: J. Hetzel, [186?]. 2 p. l., 267 p. incl. front., illus., double map. 28.5 cm.
Bibliographic note:  The Gimbel collection also holds a second Hetzel edition of this novel dated 1885.  In addition, there are eight American editions:  two copies of  Five Weeks in a Balloon; or, Journeys and Discoveries in Africa, by Three Englishmen. Compiled in French by J. Verne, from the original notes of Dr. Ferguson [pseud.] and done into English by W. Lackland.  New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1869. 1 p. l., 345 p. plates. 12 cm., Randers-Pehrson 47; same title, New York: R. Worthington, 1882. [2], 345 p. illus. 19 cm.; same title, New York: Pollard & Moss, 1887. [2], 345 p. illus. 19 cm.; same title, New York: Mershon Co. [n.d.]. 265 p. 19 cm. "Arundel edition"; . . . Five Weeks in a Balloon; an Abridged Translation. . . by Charles J. Finger.  Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius, [ca. 1923]. 64 p. 12.5 cm. (Little Blue Book No. 482) Text ends on p. 57. “Pocket Series no.482.”

Jules Verne (1828-1905) was, with Herbert George Wells, the most influential contributor to the literary genre that would be known as science fiction. Born at Nantes, France, the young Jules Verne earned his living as a stock broker but loved literature and the theater. He produced a string of unpublished stories and unproduced plays prior to 1862, when he began his association with J. Hetzel, a successful author and publisher of children's literature. Anxious to obtain new material for a children's magazine, Hetzel encouraged Verne to try his hand at producing a novella with an adventurous theme. The result was Cinq semaines en ballon... a tale in which three companions cross Africa in a balloon. The plot is less complex and dramatic than later and more famous novels like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, or From the Earth to the Moon. Still, it fits the pattern of the classic Verne Voyages extraordinaires—an adventurous tale with strong didactic elements in which a group of individuals make exciting use of technology to undertake a dangerous and exciting journey. It was the book that launched an extraordinary literary career.

Verne, Jules

De la Terre à la Lune;  Trajet Direct en 97 Heures 20 Minutes, par Jules Verne;  41 Dessins et une Carte par le Montaut

Paris: J. Hetzel et Cie [1866]. 2 p. l, 170 p. illus. 27.5 cm.
PQ2469.D3 1866

Bibliographic note:  The Gimbel collection holds two copies of the edition cited.  In addition, the collection features: same title, Nouvelle éd. Paris: Collection Hetzel, [1867].  [1]-305 p. illus. 19.5 cm.  The collection holds only two English-language translations of the book:  Miller, Walter James, The Annotated Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon, Direct in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes. . . New York:  Crowell, 1978.  [168]-171 p. and From the Earth to the Moon. London: Lock and Tyler, [1876?].  (Bound with a translation of the sequel, Round the Moon and a copy of A Journey into the Interior of the Earth. 3 vol. in 1. illus. 18 cm.)  The Gimbel collection includes only one French edition of the sequel: ... Autour de la Lune, par Jules Verne ... Paris: J. Hetzel, [1867?].  180 p. illus. 28 cm.  The collection boasts a considerable number of  English-language editions in which the two volumes are presented as a single book.  From the Earth to the Moon, Direct in 97 Hours 20 Minutes; and a Trip Round It ... Tr. from the French by Louis Mercier ... and Eleanor King ... London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1873.  viii, 323 p. illus. 20.5 cm.; another copy by the same press dated 1874; 111; same title, New York: Scribner, Armstrong and Co., 1874.  viii, 323 p. illus. 20 cm.; a second edition from the same publisher, vi, 323 p. illus. 19 cm.; same title, London: Ward, Locke and Tyler, [1876?]. 3 vol. in 1. illus. 18 cm.; same title, New York: Lowell, [1876?]. 3 vol. in 1. illus. 18 cm..; same title, New York: Lowell, [1888?]. 125, 151 p. 19 cm.  (Hawthorn series);  same title, New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1893, viii, 323 p. illus. 21 cm.; From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon, by Jules Verne... New York: A.L. Burt Company, [190?]. 1 p.l., 330 p. 19 cm.  (Publisher's lettering: The Home Library); Miller, Walter James, The Annotated Jules Verne; From the Earth to the Moon, Direct in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes, New York: Crowell, 1978. [168]-171 p.


De la Terre à la Lune... is one of the best and most influential of Jules Verne's Voyages imaginaires. The second of the author's adventure tales, it recounts the journey of artillery expert Impey Barbicane and two companions From the Earth to the Moon. The three make the trip in a hollow artillery shell weighing 30,000 pounds, fired from "The Columbiad," a 68,000-ton, 9,000-foot-long cannon buried up to the muzzle in the soil of Florida. At the end of the book, and a 97-hour, 20-minute trip through space, the three voyagers are left orbiting the moon. Anxious readers had to wait for the rescue in the sequel, Autour de la Lune (1870). Unlike most Verne tales, the real purpose of the two novels is to outline some of the problems barring the way to spaceflight and to describe the technology that might make such a trip possible, or at least thinkable. 

Konstantine Tsiolkovskii and Hermann Oberth, who, along with the American Robert Goddard, offered the first mathematical proofs of the possibility of spaceflight and outlined some of the key technological steps that would lead to eventual success, dated their own early fascination with the subject to a reading of From the Earth to the Moon.

Aëronautical Society of Great Britain
[Royal Aeronautical Society]

Report 1-8, [1866-1873]; 9-15 [1874-1880]; 16-23 [1881-1893].
London and New York: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, [1866]; Greenwich: Henry S. Richardson, [1867-1893]. 23 vol. in 3. illus., plates, diagrs. 18 cm.
[Brockett 197; Gamble 4578]

The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain was not the first organization of its kind in the world, but it was certainly the most significant and influential. Founded in 1866, the Society attracted both talented amateur experimenters and distinguished professional engineers interested in the subject. The leaders of the group arranged informative lectures and technical meetings, and sponsored the first public exhibition of aeronautical technology. The published series of annual reports proved to be the organization's most important contribution, however.

The best of the papers published in the early reports were marked by a determination to extend the power of contemporary engineering theory and practice into aeronautics. Francis Herbert Wenham's description of the wind tunnel experiments that he and John Browning conducted at Penn's Engineering Works, Greenwich, for example, opened a new era in the history of flight research. (See "Concluding Remarks," Sixth Annual Report of the Aëronautical Society of Great Britain for the Year 1871, pp. 73-81.) Today, the wide-ranging technical materials published by the Royal Aeronautical Society continue a tradition established in 1866.

Tissandier, Gaston 

En Balloon! Pendant le Siège de Paris.  Souveniers d'un Aéronaute par Gaston Tissandier, Professeur de Chimie, L'Association Polytechnique, Directeur du Laboratoire de l'Union Nationale, etc.

Paris:  E. Dentu, 1871. 3 p.l., xv, 318 p. 18.5 cm.
Brockett 11883

Bibliographic note:  Ex libris Horace Oswald Short, with decorated book-plate.  The Gimbel collection contains a much better known account by the same author, Gaston Tissandier, Souvenirs et Récits d'un Aérostier Militaire de l'Armée de la Loire, 1870-1871.  Paris: Maurice Dreyfous, 1891. x, 356 p., incl. front. illus., plates, facsim. 28.5 cm.  Brockett 11874; Gamble 3771.  The collection also contains a copy of another standard account:  G. de Clerval, Les Ballons Pendant le Siège de Paris;  Récits de 60 Voyages Aèriens, Reunis et mis en ordre par G. de Clerval ... Paris: F. Wattelier, 1871. 148 p. 20 cm., Brockett 2821.  Colonel Gimbel collected a wide range of additional items relating to the Franco-Prussian War, including manuscripts, medals, newspapers, and prints.

The French army marched off to battle in July 1870, confident of its ability to defeat Prussia. Within weeks, however, the cream of the army was besieged at Metz, while Emperor Napoleon III was defeated at Sedan. By early September, panic and the spirit of revolution were sweeping through the streets of Paris. A new Government of National Defense began taking shape as two Prussian armies moved toward the capital. The Siege of Paris was under way. During the long months of isolation, which ended with the armistice and surrender in January and February 1871, the sight of balloons bobbing above the skyline or flying to safety carrying mail and official news to the outside world provided a source of hope and pride for thousands of Parisians. During the course of the siege, more than 65 balloons carried 164 passengers and 11 tons of paper, ranging from government dispatches to an estimated 2.5 million letters to the outside world. All but 8 of the balloons succeeded in carrying their cargo to friendly hands. Carrier pigeons were also pressed into service by this first official airmail operation.

In addition to their involvement with the Paris post, French aeronauts served with military units continuing to operate in the field. Gaston Tissandier recounts his experience as one of the aeronautical heroes of the Franco-Prussian War. In addition, he provides an early account of the famous aerial post in which balloons and pigeons carried mail out of Paris and Metz.

Fonvielle, Wilfrid de

La Science en Ballon. . .

Paris:  Gauthier-Villars, 1869. 3 p. l., xvi, 141 p. 11. 18 cm.
Bibliographic note:  This copy is marked: "A.F. Zahm, Notre Dame, Ind." Zahm was a controversial aviation pioneer who taught physics for a time at Notre Dame.  In addition to the single edition of the volume noted, the Gimbel collection includes the following volumes by Fonvielle:  Les Ballons-sondes et les Ascensions internationales, précédé d'une Introduction par J. Bouquet de la Grye ... 2nd ed. Paris:  Gauthier-Villars, 1899. ix, 148 p. 11. illus. (incl. maps), diagrs. 19 cm. (Gimbel copy is ex libris Albert Tissandier); Notre Flotte aérienne, par Wilfrid de Fonvielle et Georges Besançon ... Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1908. 2 p.l., 234 p. illus. (incl. ports.) 22 cm., Brockett 4863A; Falempin, ou l'espion aérien: Roman patriotique du Siège de Paris ... Paris: E. Gaillard, [1910?]. 270 p. illus. 29 cm.  The collection also contains several copies of James Glaisher, Voyages aériens to which Fonvielle contributed.

Wilfrid de Fonvielle (1826-1914), a scientist who had been exiled to Algeria for a time as a result of his liberal political views, was the author of works on a variety of popular scientific topics, including human fossils, insects, and meteorology. He was best known, however, as a scientific balloonist, a historian of ballooning, and one of the aeronaut-heroes of the Siege of Paris.

He first came to public attention as a balloonist in 1867, when he accompanied Jules Godard on a flight above the clouds to observe a meteor shower. It was the first in a long series of scientific flights described in La Science en Ballon. One of the great aeronauts of the era, well known as both a scientific and sport balloonist, Fonvielle was elected the first president of the Aéro-Club de France in 1893.

Wise, John

Through the Air: a Narrative of Forty Years' Experience as an Aeronaut.  Comprising a History of the Various Attempts in the Art of Flying by Artificial Means from the Earliest Period Down to the Present Time.  With an Account of the Author's Thrilling Adventures and Hairbreadth Escapes.

Also an Appendix, in which are Given Full Instructions for the Manufacture and Management of Balloons.  By John Wise.

Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Chicago: Today Printing and Publishing Co., 1873. 630 p. incl. col. front., plates, ports, facsim. 24 cm.
Brockett 12948; Gamble 850; Randers-Pehrson 57

Bibliographic note:  Through the Air is a revised and enlarged edition of an earlier Wise volume: TLB251.W81.  A System of Aeronautics, Comprising its Earliest Investigations, and Modern Practice and Art.  Designed as a History for the Modern Reader, Account of Various Attempts in the Art of Flying by Artificial Means, from the Earliest Period Down to the Discovery of the Aeronautic Machine by the Brothers Montgolfier, in 1782, and to a Later Period, with a Brief History of the Author's Fifteen Years' Experience in Aerial Voyages.  Also, full instructions in the art of making balloons... Philadelphia: J.A. Speel, 1850. xvi, [17]-310 p. front. (port.), plates, 22 cm., Brockett 12945; Gamble 849; Randers-Pehrson 28.  The Gimbel collection contains only one copy of Through the Air and two copies of System of Aeronautics (cited here) and a second edition:  Fairfield, Wash.:  Ye Galleon Press, 1979. 310 p. illus. 28 cm. In addition, the collection contains a copy of John Wise, Lightning and the Lightning Rod; Use and Abuse of the Rod, Thunder and Thunderstorms, Thirty Years in the Clouds.  Lancaster, Pa.: Pearsol, 1870. 39 p. 23 cm.


Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, John Wise (1809-1879)  became nineteenth-century America's best known aerial voyager. Trained as a cabinet and piano maker, he made over 450 balloon ascents between his first flight in 1835 and his death while attempting to fly across Lake Michigan. A leading balloon builder, Wise pioneered the use of new materials for the construction of envelopes, new sealing varnishes, and technological innovations like the ripping panel, which enabled an aeronaut to empty the envelope immediately after landing.

Wise carried the first air mail officially sanctioned by the U.S. Post Office, popularized the notion of aerial photography, and argued forcefully for the use of aerial reconnaissance as early as the Mexican War. Unlike most other aeronauts of the period, Wise was genuinely interested in science, particularly meteorology, which he defined as "the geology of the atmosphere." He built his reputation on his extraordinary skill as an airman, however.

Wise was involved in some of the great long-distance flights undertaken in antebellum America, notably an 809-mile flight from St. Louis, Missouri, to Henderson, New York, in June 1859. He was perhaps best known for his unrealized dream of flying the Atlantic. Through the Air remains one of the classic American aeronautical autobiographies.

Verne, Jules

Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, par Jules Verne. . .

Paris: J. Hetzel, [1874]. 2 p. l., 217, [3] p. incl. front., illus., maps. 27.5 cm.
PQ2469.T7  1874

Bibliographic note:  In addition to the single French volume cited, the Gimbel collection contains two English-language editions:  The Tour of the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne ... Translated by George M. Towls.  Boston:  J.R. Osgood, 1874. 291 p. front. 15 cm. (The Santerer's Series); same title, Chicago and New York: Belford Clarke, 1884. 320 p. illus. 19 cm.

Compared to Jules Verne's more complex novels, Around the World in Eighty Days is a relatively straightforward adventure tale with a simple point. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the advent of the steamship and transcontinental railroad travel had drastically reduced the time required to travel to the far corners of the world. Verne's hero, a London clubman, wagers that he can girdle the globe in eighty days. Restricted to modes of locomotion that were actually available, the free balloon was Verne's only opportunity to launch his circumnavigating heroes into the skies.

Throughout his career, Verne based one story after another on lighter-than-air flight technology. As far as we know, however, the author made only one flight, a short ascent from Amiens in 1873 with aeronaut Eugène Godard.

Amick, M.L.

History of Donaldson's Balloon Ascensions, Laughable Incidents, Frightful Accidents, Narrow Escapes, Thrilling Adventures, Bursted Balloons...  Comp. and Arranged by M.L. Amick,  M.D.  Illustrated from the original drawings of Donaldson.

Cincinnati News Company, 1875. 199, [1] p. front. (port.), plates. 22.5 cm.
Brockett 564; Gamble 535; Randers-Pehrson 61

Washington Harrison Donaldson (1840-1875), born in  Philadelphia in 1840, earned early fame as a gymnast, acrobat, tightrope walker, and aerialist. At the time of his first ascent in 1871, he employed the balloon as little more than a flying acrobatic platform. Donaldson performed his feats of aerial derring-do on the load ring of the balloon or dangling from a trapeze bar that substituted for the basket.

As Donaldson gained experience in the air, he came to share the desire of an older generation of American balloonists to fly the Atlantic. He reached the height of his fame in 1873, as a result of the publicity surrounding an abortive attempt to conquer the ocean with an enormous balloon, the Daily Graphic, funded by the newspaper of the same name. Like John Wise, Donaldson died as a result of an unsuccessful attempt to fly across Lake Michigan.

M.L. Amick, a Cincinnati physician and an acquaintance of Donaldson, provided a classic portrait of the career of a leading aerial showman, complete with delightfully primitive woodcut illustrations.

Sircos, A. [Alfred] and Pallier, Th.

Histoire des Ballons et des ascensions célèbres; [avec une] préface de Nadar: Dessins de A. Tissandier et des meilleurs artistes

Paris: F. Roy, 1876. 2 p. l., 476 p. front., illus. (incl. ports.) 29 cm.
Brockett 11263;  Gamble 803

With an introduction by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (Nadar), the great French photographer-aeronaut, and illustrations by aeronaut Albert Tissandier (1839-1906) and other artists, Histoire des Ballons... is one of the best of several classic histories of ballooning that appeared in the late nineteenth century. The text is generally accurate but offers a much stronger coverage of the early history of  ballooning than of the prehistory of flight. The illustrations are worthy of special note.

Tissandier, Gaston

Le Grand Ballon Captif à Vapeur de M. Henri Giffard.  Cour des Tuileries—Paris, 1878.  Avec de Nombreuses Illustrations, par M. Albert Tissandier

Paris:  G. Masson, 1878. 67, [1] p. incl. front., illus., plates (part double) 22.5 cm.
Brockett 11942; Gamble 820

Bibliographic note:  This volume is ex libris Gaston Tissandier.  The Gimbel collection also contains a second copy of this edition; and a Nouvelle édition, also 1878 and ex libris Gaston Tissandier.  In addition to those volumes by Gaston Tissandier specifically cited here and elsewhere in this book, the Gimbel collection contains the following items: ...Application de l'Électricité  à la Navigation Aérienne; l'Aérostat Électrique à Hélice de MM. Albert et Gaston Tissandier ... Notre Présentée à  la Société d'Encouragement le 11 janvier 1884... Paris, Imprimerie J. Tremblay, 1884.  16 p. illus., fold. pl. 26.5 x 22.5 cm.; Les Ballons dirigeables.  Application de l'électricité à la navigation aérienne, par Gaston Tissandier... Ouvrage accompagné de 35 figures et de 4 planches hors texte.  Paris:  Gauthier-Villars, 1885. 2 p.l., [vii]- xii, 108 p. incl. front. illus., plates, map. iv double pl. 19.5 cm., Brockett 11871; Gamble 1350; Les Ballons dirigeables; Expériences de M. Dupuy de Lôme en 1872, par Gaston Tissandier... Paris:  E. Dentu, 1872. vii, 62 p. illus. 18 cm.; Deux Conférences sur les aérostats et la navigation aérienne, par Gaston Tissandier; 1st La Métérologie en ballon; Conférence faite au Congrès scientifique de Lille, le 21 août 1874. 2nd la Direction des Aérostats; Conférence faite à la Sorbonne, le 3 mai 1883.  Suivies du catalogue des projections relatives aux aérostats.  Paris:  A. Molteni, [1884]. 87, [1] p. incl. front. 19 cm.; Histoire de mes ascensions; Récit de Quarante-cinq Voyages aériens (1868-1888) par Gaston Tissandier... Paris:  M. Dreyfous, [pref. 1888]. 2 p.l., ii, [ix]-xxiv, 308 p. incl. front., illus., plates, diagrs. 26.5 cm.; La Navigation aérienne; l'Aviation et la direction des aérostats dans les temps anciens et modernes, par Gaston Tissandier... Ouvrage illustré de 99 Vignettes. Paris: Hachette et Cie, 1886. 2 p. l., ii, 334 p., il. incl. illus., plates, front. 18.5 cm.; Les Martyrs de la Science.  Ouvrage Illustré de Trente-quatre Gravures sur Bois, Compositions de Camille Gilbert.  Paris:  M. Dreyfous, [1879]. 334 p. illus. 25 cm.; Le Présent et l'avenir de l'aéronautique, par Gaston Tissandier ... le 19 septembre 1889. 39 p. 20 cm.; La Photographie en ballon, par Gaston Tissandier... Paris:  Gauthier-Villars, 1886. vii, 45 p., il. incl. illus., plates, front. (mounted phot.) 21 cm.; Science, Patrie; Conférence faite par... le 29 novembre 1889, au siège de l'Association des Dames françaises... Amiens:  Delattre-leNoel, 1889. 15 p. 21 cm; Simples Notions sur les ballons et la navigation aérienne par Gaston Tissandier, avec un Frontispice par Albert Tissandier et 36 vignettes par G. Mathieu.  Paris:  Librairie illustrée, [1876]. viii, [9]-125 p., il. incl. front., illus. 16.5 cm. (ex libris Gaston Tissandier).


The huge captive balloon that operated as a central attraction at the Paris World's Fair of 1878 was perhaps the largest aerostat ever constructed. With a capacity of 883,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, the balloon was capable of lifting 17 tons. Fifty passengers at a time would be admitted into the circular car. Allowed to rise high above the Paris skyline, the balloon was pulled back down to earth by a powerful steam winch. An estimated 35,000 individuals took advantage of the opportunity to obtain a spectacular view of the City of Lights during the course of the exhibition. Henri Giffard, the brilliant engineer who designed and supervised the construction of the huge craft, had also built and flown the world's first genuinely successful powered airship. A 144-foot-long, spindle-shaped craft powered by a 3 h.p. steam engine, Giffard's dirigible balloon flew for the first time in 1852. Giffard built his first very large tethered balloon, a 176,500-cubic-foot aerostat, for the Paris Exposition of 1867. Two years later, he provided a similar balloon for a London exhibition. Wilfrid de Fonvielle and Gaston Tissandier, the author of this account, made a series of flights with the London aerostat, now the world's largest free balloon, in an effort to raise money for an aerial expedition to the North Pole.

Flammarion, Camille

Voyages aériens; Impressions et études; Journal de bord de douze voyages scientifiques en ballon; avec plans topographiques

Paris: C. Marpon et E. Flammarion, 1881. 2 p. l., 384 p. illus. (maps) 19 cm.
Brockett 4604
Bibliographic note:  This copy is inscribed: "A Mademoiselle Marie Levy-Bing—sympathique hommage—C. Flammarion, Mois des Fleurs, 1881."  The Gimbel collection contains a second copy of this edition, ex libris Albert Tissandier.

An astronomer with the Paris Observatory, Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) made a dozen scientific ascents with aeronaut Eugène Godard, 1867-1870. In this report of those flights, the author focuses on meteorology, reporting on the temperature, humidity, clouds, and air currents encountered aloft. Flammarion also conducted aerial experiments involving optics, acoustics, and astronomy.

Mouillard, Louis Pierre

L'Empire de l'Air: Essai d'Ornithologie appliquée à l'aviation

Paris: G. Masson, 1881.  284 p. illus. 26.5 cm.
Brockett 8837; Gamble 5270

Louis Mouillard (1834-1897), a native of Lyons, abandoned a promising career in art to emigrate to Algeria; he farmed there until 1865 when he fled to Cairo as a result of political problems. His interest in flight was initially aroused by observing the birds. Some of his most important publications, including L'Empire de l'Air, focused on bird flight rather than on his own aeronautical experiments or glider designs.

Mouillard built three gliders in the 1850s, in one of which he succeeded in making at least one significant flight. He corresponded with the leading aeronautical enthusiast Octave Chanute in the 1890s. Chanute funded a glider constructed by Mouillard in Cairo during the mid-1890s, and arranged for an English translation of L'Empire de l'Air and its re-publication by the Smithsonian Institution. Chanute was convinced that his friend's description of aerodynamic control in bird flight represented the earliest technical explanation of the lateral control technique developed by the Wright brothers.

Tissandier, Gaston

Histoire des Ballons et des Aéronautes célèbres,
Volume 1, 1783-1800; Volume 2, 1801-1890

Bibliographic note: "Il a été fait une édition spéciale de grand luxe à vingt-cinq exemplaires numérotés sur papier du Japon, avec une double suite des toutes les planches en photogravure."  No 25.

Gaston Tissandier (1843-1899), a research chemist and one of the leading sport and scientific balloonists of nineteenth-century France, made some 40 ascents during an active career that stretched from 1868 to 1886. His most famous flight was an ascent from Paris on April 17, 1875, aboard the balloon Zénith. Accompanied by scientists Theodore Sivel and Joseph Croce-Spinelli, and equipped with an experimental oxygen apparatus, Tissandier was determined to break an altitude record established by Henry Coxwell. Tissandier lost consciousness at 22,800 feet. He recovered to find his companions dead on the bottom of the basket and the balloon dropping very rapidly toward the earth.  He was the only survivor. Gaston Tissandier, who had written his name large in the annals of flight, was fascinated by the development of aeronautics and produced a classic history of ballooning.

Coxwell, Henry

My Life and Balloon Experiences, with a Supplementary Chapter on Military Ballooning

London:  W.H. Allen and Co., 1887, 1889. 2 v. front. (v. 1) 13 plates.  19 cm.
Brockett 3157; Gamble 514


Henry Tracey Coxwell (1819-1900), one of the most colorful and experienced of all British aeronauts, made his first flight in 1844, his 500th in 1863, and his 1,000th (and last) in 1885. Throughout his long career, he developed a reputation for both courage and hairbreadth escapes. On July 6, 1847, Coxwell ascended from Birmingham with several passengers and 60 pounds of fireworks.  Caught in a thunderstorm, the balloon burst at 4,000 feet. Coxwell allowed the lower portion of the envelope to invert into the upper netting, forming a parachute that returned the party safely to earth.

Coxwell made one of the most famous ascents of all time on September 5, 1862, when he set out from Wolverhampton with scientist James Glaisher to study atmospheric and physiological conditions at high altitudes. Passing through  30,000 feet, the expanding balloon pulled the valve line out of reach. With Glaisher unconscious, Coxwell, his hands frozen, climbed up onto the load ring and pulled the valve line with his teeth. Both men survived.

In addition to his well-publicized  scientific ascents, Coxwell experimented with aerial reconnaissance, bomb dropping, and other aspects of military aeronautics.  In 1870 and 1871 he conducted a series of important flights at Cologne and Strasbourg and helped to organize and train a balloon unit for the German army.

Tissandier, Gaston

Bibliographie aéronautique:  Catalogue de livres d'histoire, de science, de voyages et de fantaisie, traitant de la Navigation aérienne ou de Aérostats. . .

Paris:  H. Launette, 1887. 2 p. [5]-62 [2] p. 29 cm.
Brockett 11919; Gamble 32

Bibliographic note: "Il a été fait une édition spéciale de grand luxe à vingt-cinq exemplaires numérotés sur papier du Japon." This copy was annotated by Colonel Richard Gimbel.

In addition to being a leading aeronaut, designer of aerostats, and historian of aeronautics, Gaston Tissandier was also an important collector of books and manuscripts on aeronautics and artifacts relating to the history of flight. His Bibliographie lists over 800 items covering all aspects of the subject. With illustrations reproduced on high-quality Japanese paper, the book remains a classic guide to early aeronautica.

Lilienthal, Otto

Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst:  Ein Beitrag zur Systematik der Flugtechnik.  Auf Grund zahlreicher von O. und G. Lilienthal ausgeführter Versuche bearbeitet von Otto Lilienthal ... Mit 80 Holzschnitten, 8 lithographierten Tafeln und 1 Titelbild in Farbendruck

Berlin: R. Gaertners, 1889. viii, 187 p. col. front., illus. VIII fold. diagr. 23.5 cm.
Brockett 7557; Gamble 5239


Germany's Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) the author of this work whose title translates to "Birdflight as the basis of aviation:  a contribution toward a system of flight technology," began his serious work in aeronautics with engineering tests conducted during the years 1866-1870, 1873-1874, and 1885-1889. His basic goal was to measure the lift and drag produced by different airfoil shapes at various angles of attack. Working with his brother Gustav, Lilienthal began by demonstrating that cambered, or curved, wings produce greater lift than a flat plate and then proceeded to identify what he believed to be the most efficient airfoil shapes.

Having published his results in Der Vogelflug, Lilienthal turned from theory to practice. Between 1890 and 1896, he completed some 2,000 glides in 18 distinct glider designs. Photographs and eyewitness descriptions of his flights convinced the readers of magazines and newspapers that the age of winged flight was at hand.

Otto Lilienthal died on August 10, 1896, as a result of injuries suffered in a glider crash. He inspired the generation of experimenters who would take the final steps toward the invention of the airplane. The technical information in Der Vogelflug provided subsequent experimenters with a starting point; they, in turn, corrected Lilienthal's data and improved on his research.

Langley, S[amuel] P[ierpont]

Experiments in Aerodynamics

Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian Institution, 1891.  iii, 115 p. incl. tables, diagrs.  x plates (part fold.) 33.5 cm.  (Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge) [v. 27, n. 1]  Smithsonian Institution publication 801.
Brockett 7166; Randers-Pehrson 82

Bibliographic note:  This volume is an account of Langley's earliest experiments.  The design, construction, and testing of several models and full-scale aerodromes are covered in: Langley Memoir on Mechanical Flight, Parts 1 and 2.  Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian Institution, 1911. 1 v. illus., plates (part double) diagrs. 33.5 cm.  (Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, v. 27, n. 3), Smithsonian Institution publication 1948.

The third secretary, or director, of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Langley (1834-1906) earned fame as a pioneer astrophysicist and an administrator of science. Interested in flight since childhood, he began a series of aerodynamic experiments in 1886-1887, while he was still director of the Allegheny Observatory at the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh). His goal was to answer the basic question:  Is it possible to design and build a successful mechanical, heavier- than-air flying machine? "The most important general inference from these experiments," Langley reported in Experiments in Aerodynamics,  "is that... mechanical flight is possible with engines we now possess." Having demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the basic problem could be solved, Langley would spend the last decade of his life attempting to develop a practical flying machine. He began by testing small flying models powered by strands of twisted rubber, then moved on to steam-powered "aerodromes" with wingspans up to 15 feet. In 1896, after five years of effort, Langley's team achieved sustained flight with two of these models. The final step, which came between 1898 and 1903, involved the design and construction of a full-scale aerodrome. The craft was destroyed during a final unsuccessful attempt at a test flight in December 1903.

Stringfellow, F[rederick] J[ohn]

A Few Remarks on What Has Been Done with Screw-Propelled Aero-Plane Machines, from 1809 to 1892

Chard, England:  Young and Son, 1892. 14 p. 6 mounted illus. 21.5 cm.
Brockett 11592

Frederick John Stringfellow (1832-1905) was a native of Chard, England.  His father, John Stringfellow (1799-1883), was an aeronaut, amateur scientist, and brilliant engineer who had developed light steam engines for industrial applications. In 1840, Stringfellow and William Samuel Henson (1805-1888) began a collaborative effort to solve the problems of powered, heavier-than-air flight. Two years later, Henson patented the design for a high-wing, passenger-carrying monoplane with a 150-foot span. Over the next decade, the Aerial Steamship as it became known, inspired a series of both serious and comic graphic prints that spread the fame of Henson and Stringfellow throughout Europe and America.

The collaboration ended in 1848, when Henson emigrated to the United States.  In later years, Frederick Stringfellow claimed a short, sustained free flight for a steam-powered model with a 10-foot wingspan developed by his father during this period. Stringfellow and son were awarded a £100 prize for a lightweight steam engine designed to power a triplane model displayed at the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain exhibition in 1868. Frederick, who developed a series of multiplane models following his father's death, sought to ensure that the contributions of W.S. Henson and two generations of Stringfellows would not be forgotten.