The Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection

The Genesis of Flight

Prints  1779 – 1784

Narration By Will Ketterson

Introduction By Paul Maravelas

Colonel Gimbel began to amass his aeronautical collection during World War II, a decade after author Lockwood Marsh had lamented that early aeronautical prints were becoming difficult to find. Yet Gimbel was able to assemble an unsurpassed private collection of images, including one important print (Vuë d'Annonay en Vivarais), which I believe is one of two copies in the United States.  At the end of his life Gimbel owned approximately 2,000 prints, which he organized into about 40 groups according to theme. Aside from a handful of prints that were framed and exhibited in Gimbel's New Haven home, the collection was kept in semi-rigid boxes.

Such an extensive archive allows one to compare a variety of illustrations that depict a single aeronautical event; one soon concludes that we cannot view these prints literally. The variations are not surprising when we reflect that a commercial medium was used to generate commemorative images of scenes that were often momentary or, in fact, had yet to occur; in either case they presented particular challenges to the artist

Flight, throughout its history, appeared to be less promising to some people than to others, and one sees (especially in the eighteenth century) a large number of satirical prints in which the balloon is used to symbolize folly or the balloon itself is characterized as the contrivance of misguided enthusiasts. The subject is well addressed in Melvin Waldfogel, François-Louis Bruel (De Vinck), and by Burkhard Leismann in a chapter of Leichter als Luft.  Without ignoring this phenomenon altogether, I have selected largely from the prints produced for aeronautical enthusiasts. I have tried to emphasize in the text the perspective of the audience for which the prints were intended, with the hope that we might consider how these prints were regarded by those who first enjoyed them.


Measurements of the prints are given in centimeters measured from the edges of the plate with intaglio prints and the edges of the images for others. In the descriptions the wording is recorded as it appears on the prints, incorporating the irregular spellings and apparent disregard for accents sometimes found on the originals. Many of the artisans or artists who created these works could not be located in documentary sources, and their names appear simply as given on the prints. The publishers are indicated only when their prominence or association with the world of aeronautics seemed to dictate it. The numbering system maintained in the Gimbel collection (the “X” number identifying each print) is based on Gimbel's grouping. Finally, the full citations to the catalogues and other works (e.g., Bruel, Caproni, George, Leichter als Luft, Liebmann and Wahl, March) mentioned in the descriptions are included in the “Prints” section of the Bibliography of this program.

Dædalus & Icarus, in the Salon at Houghton

Johan Gottlieb Facius & George Sigmund Facius, after Charles Le Brun  (1619-1690)
Etching, stipple engraving, 27.5 x 40 cm.
XP-XL-1 (1018)

Charles Le Brun profoundly influenced French art while serving in various official positions, including first painter to Louis XIV. Le Brun's "Dædalus & Icarus," which measures over 4 x 6 feet, shows the mythological pair preparing their escape from the Island of Crete, where they were imprisoned for offending King Minos. Icarus and Dædalus fashioned wings for the escape, but Icarus flew too near the sun (which melted the wax that held the wings together) and fell into the sea. The myth suggests the importance of remembering one's place in the cosmos; the painting emphasizes fatherly dedication and the recklessness of youth. Most of Le Brun's paintings were published as engravings. At the time this print appeared (November 1779), Le Brun's painting was part of the collection at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, which had been built between 1722 and 1735 by Sir Robert Walpole. After Sir Robert's death in 1745 the house passed in succession to two sons who let Houghton Hall deteriorate. A third son, the famous Horace, noted in 1773 that the house was "half a ruin, though the pictures, the glorious pictures, and furniture were in general admirably well preserved." The painting is now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

L'Uom Volante

[After 1781].
Etching, sheet trimmed to 8.2 x 14.3 cm.
XP-XL-27 (2223)

This design formed the frontispiece to a fantasy in four volumes: La Découverte australe par un homme volant written by Restif de la Bretonne and published in Leipzig and Paris in 1781. The parachute-like device strapped to the flyer's head is an intriguing innovation, as the print appeared years before the parachute was developed. (This is a copy of the original; in the original, the figure faces left.)

An Air Balloon invented in the last Century

London, 1789.
Etching, 18.6 x 12.3 cm.
XB-8-3B (1052)

This etching pictures the aircraft designed by Francesco Lana de Terzi, which incorporated four copper spheres devoid of air. Originally published in 1670, this articulation of the aerostat was the earliest we know of, although it was never built and it appears that since the spheres would need to resist the pressure of the atmosphere, they would be too heavy to float in the air. Although Lana's concept had no direct effect on the invention of the balloon, his craft received a new bout of publicity when the balloon was introduced in 1783. It would appear that the English, however, were not paying very close attention, as this plate appeared in European Magazine and London Review in February 1789, six years after similar images had been exhumed and published in France and four years after Tiberius Cavallo had devoted several pages to it in his History and Practice of Aerostation, published in London. The two-page article that accompanies this plate in European Magazine begins: "A correspondent has obliged us with the following quotation from a scarce book, incontrovertibly proving that the subject of BALLOONS had been investigated long before the FRENCH AERONAUTS and LUNARDI entertained the public with the practical succession of these useless phænomenon." The article consists of passages from Johannes Sturmis' Collegium Experimentale, a book that presented, in 1701, the idea of Lana's aerostat without acknowledging the source. (An exact predecessor of this print was published [in reverse] in Michael Bernhard Valentini's Museum Museorum, Th. 3 tab. xxvii, Frankfurt am Main, 1714.)

Vuë d'avant du Vaisseau Volant

Etching, 23.8 x 16 cm.
XP-XL-6 (1214)


Jean-Pierre Blanchard constructed this ornithopter in 1782 and promised to fly it in May of that year. The attempt was postponed because of rain, and despite continuous promises, it never occurred. Blanchard's reputation suffered greatly. This print forms a part of a series of four images illustrating the machine, which used a series of pulleys and ropes operated by the pilot with his arms and legs. (The print is a copy of the original series of four views published by Françis-Nicholas Martinet, probably issued after Blanchard began his career as a balloonist in 1784.)

Vuë d'Annonay en Vivarais. Dediée a MM. de Montgolfier Frères

Paris, [1785?]. Chez [Le] Vachez.
Etching, 15 x 10.3 cm.
XC-10-2M (2878)

This small print supposedly depicts the first public launch of a balloon by Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier in June 1783 before an audience of the regional government, Les États particuliers de Vivarais. Several features signal that this depiction is inexact. The desolation of the surroundings is especially odd since this launch took place in the middle of a modest town before a multitude of people. It is improbable that a hot-air balloon would possess so fine a mouth, and there is no depiction of what Étienne Montgolfier described as a "carriage" below the envelope. The print does depict the method of fastening the parts of the balloon together, which involved the use of buttons. According to the caption this method allowed the balloon to be rapidly assembled, presumably so that the Montgolfiers could transport the paper and canvas aircraft in parts. The many lines around the envelope may be meant to depict the net mentioned in the caption. The date of this print's appearance is curious, for one would presume it to be some time proximal to the event depicted; instead, the print was announced in the Journal de Paris on December 26, 1784, although the plate had yet to be prepared. No other eighteenth-century depiction exists of this first public display, although later artists address the event.  The print shown here was widely copied in the nineteenth century. The print has been attributed to P.G. Tavenard by Liebmann Wahl (#175), and to Nicolas de Launay (engraver) and Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (artist) by Marsh; no artist's marks appear on the print. 

(This is probably the rarest aeronautical print known, and the Gimbel copy is thought to be one of two examples in the United States. It was issued as part of a series of prints by Nicolas-Françis Le Vachez, all of which were schematically similar and the same size; the series included XC-10-2C 3390, "Vue de la prarie de Nesle, situé à 9 lieus de Paris"; XC-10-2M 2882, "Vue de Versaille, pris du coté de la çhapelle"; XC-10-2M 2893, "Vue de la Terrasse de Mr. Franklin à Passi"; and XL-6 4622, "Vue du Château de Douvres."  The Journal de Paris of October 8, 1784, mentions the series, "all five and a half inches in height and four wide," for sale at 12 sous colored and 8 plain. The series was reported to be complete with the publication of a print depicting  the "third trial of the Robert Brothers . . . on the 29th ofSeptember," which had already been issued in a larger format [print XP-XL-4 1159].  On the 26th of December, 1784, two additional prints were announced.  Mondin identifies nineteen prints in the series. The Tissandier collection in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., holds a copy of the "Vue d'Annonay" bound into a rare [and possibly unique] collection of fifteen of the prints titled: Suite complète des estampes représentant les expériences aérostatiques, undated, with the imprint: "A Paris, Chez le Vachez.")

Expérience de la Machine Aréostatique de Mrs. De Montgolfier, d'Anonai en Vivarais. Reppetée  à Paris le 27 Aoust 1783 au Champ de Mars.

Paris, [1783?]. Chez Le Noir. 
Engraving, 27.2 x 40 cm.
XP-XL-3 (1100)

The small fabric balloon that was launched on August 27 from the Champ de Mars was intended to repeat the demonstration in Annonay and introduce the balloon to the French capital. Faujas de Saint-Fond, a geologist, was responsible for raising the money for the 36-foot balloon; physicist J.A.C. Charles was responsible for its design and launch; and the Robert brothers built it. Charles could assume that the Montgolfiers had used hydrogen for their Annonay balloon or at least that hydrogen would work well for the purpose of repeating the Annonay trial. This print is famous for its recycled foreground: As historian François-Louis Bruel first pointed out, the plate had previously been used for the print "Aux incrédules de Paris," a satirical treatment of Blanchard's "flying machine" over Paris. There are two states of the "balloon" version, with differences in the foreground and middle ground to more accurately reflect the circumstances of the launch. In this version, the valve is still attached to the mouth of the balloon, whose small size (or closed position) caused the explosion of this balloon in flight. 

(This is the "third state" of the plate, published by Le Noir, showing new environs but retaining some of the foreground figures. The print was quickly ready for distribution, since parts of the plate existed as explained above; the Journal de Paris announced publication on August 29; the price was 12 sous. Benjamin Franklin mentions the print by title in a September 2 postscript to a letter of August 30, addressed to Sir Joseph Banks. Franklin noted that, in the caption of the print, Faujas de Saint-Fond had been credited with the organization of a national subscription in support of the balloon and that Charles had been added as an organizer, although his name "is wrote with pen, not engraved." Aside from Franklin's mention, the author has not noted this addition on any other copies of the print. Le Noir, whose first name is not known, was either the father or the brother of the engraver Rose Le Noir, who engraved print XL-41 3237.)

A messieurs les souscripteurs.  Allarme général des habitants de Gonesse

Paris, [1783?]. Chez Le Noir.
Etching, 31.4 x 21.4 cm.
XP-XL-3 (1101)


Issued by Le Noir, this intriguing plate suggests the ignorance of the provincials, who were reportedly so alarmed by the balloon as it descended on August 27 near the village of Gonesse that they destroyed it. As the caption states, 300,000 Parisians had watched the balloon launch 45 minutes prior to this scene; the reaction of the provincials illustrates the lack of communication and the disparity of technologies at the time. The same device could enlighten the people of one city and cause panic in a village 12 miles away. This print was clearly intended for the upper classes of Paris and was sold by "Le Noir, M[archan]d Fournisseur des Estampes du Cabinet du Roi, demeurant au Louvre" (Le Noir, merchant and purveyor of prints to the Cabinet of the King, residing at the Louvre). We can contrast it to many other satirical prints of the balloon that were intended for the general public. (The Gimbel collection includes five different prints of this scene, all schematically similar.)

Expèrience faite à Versailles en presence de S.M. le Roy par le Sieur Montgolfier le 19 Septembre 1783

[After Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813)] 1783?
Painting, with ink details, on paper, 13.1 x 18.2 cm.
XC-10-2M (2884)


On September 19, 1783, Étienne Montgolfier "proved" the invention before the King of France at Versailles and a multitude of curious Parisians. Unlike the balloon of August 27, this aircraft carried a payload and captivated all of Paris.  This event provided an extremely popular image, and numerous decorated objects feature this scene.(Clément [p.46] shows a similar painting on a box, as does Jackson [p.38]. The Gimbel collection includes two boxes: one [Misc.25] of 7 cm diameter with the image painted on the top and signed by Y. Capelle [1746-1800]; another [Misc.24] shows the launch from a different perspective.)

Le globe aërostatique construit à Versailles a été placé dans la 1ere. Cour du Château

Etching, with roulette, 33.7 x 19.2 cm.
XP-XL-2 (1066)


The demonstration on September 19, 1783, not only revealed the workings of the hitherto mysterious hot-air balloon, but established the safety of flight—at least for sheep and fowl. This straightforward version of the ascent ignores the mass of Parisians before whom this invention was unveiled, emphasizing instead the technology involved. The payload included a cage containing three animals, while a long cylinder housing a crude recording barometer is given special prominence by the artist. The print's caption explains that the balloon's lift is 1,200 pounds, its size is 60 feet high by 40 feet wide, and its coloration is gold detail on a blue background. "About 100 workers helped to ready it, and the whole area was enclosed with canvas to prevent the public from seeing what went on inside." This caution was typical of the Montgolfiers, and in fact the caption erroneously reports that this hot-air balloon was inflated with "inflammable air."  Close examination of this print reveals what appear to be buttons along the seams, which suggests the repetition of the technique used in the balloon of June 5, shown in print XC-10-2M 2878. (An English version, "The Original Air Balloon" [XC-10-2M 2903], is a direct copy of this print.)

Expérience faite à Versaille, en présence de leurs Majestés et de la Famille Royalle, par M. Montgolfier, le 19. Sept.1783

Nicolas De Launay (1739-1792), after a design by the Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813) Paris, [1783].
Etching, 15.5 x 10 cm.
XC-10-2M (2880)

This masterful sketch of the September 19 ascent of a sheep, cock, and duck appeared as the frontispiece in the Description des expériences aérostatiques by Faujas de Saint-Fond. The nine prints in the book are known for their accuracy as well as their beauty; in fact, the creators of the work boasted of its precise descriptions, which were created at the events. Twenty-four-year-old Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813) designed all nine of the prints, which were executed by the well-known engravers François Noël Sellier (1737-?), Pierre Gabriel(?) Bertault (1748-ca.1819), and Nicolas DeLaunay (1739-1792).  Intended for a position within the book, this print was labeled plate 5 in the upper right. When the book was finalized, this print, "more ornate than the others," was placed instead opposite the title page. The fifty-three-year-old De Launay prepared the plate shown here and three others included in the book's 1784 sequel, Première suite de la description. Lorimier's drawing is in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris.

Exprience aerostatique faite Versailles le 19 Sept 1783

[sic; title appears in reverse]
Engraving, 29.3 x 37.8 cm. (sheet) (plate size indeterminate)
XP-XL-2 (1062)


The title of this print appears in reverse so that when the print is viewed thorugh a vue d'optique device, the wording would read normally. Given in French and German, the caption explains the specifics of the balloon, including its size and coloration. The crowd, which is drafted in great detail that would be further enhanced by the vue d'optique, is described as numbering 130,000.  Part of the inscription (in reverse) on the stone pediment in the foreground appears to read "monr. Vicvin." Liebmann and Wahl (#197) identify the sculpture in the foreground as a personification of Genius and suggest that the print was produced by the Augsburg printer Probst. (This print appears to be a German copy of XP-XL-2 1064, issued by Le Noir, in which the inscription on the stone pediment in the foreground may include the artist's signature; it reads: "R M" or "P M" and "ergon ex hmerwn" ["six days' work"]. Other copies of the Le Noir plate are the colored prints XP-XL-2 1060 and XP-XL-2 1061.)

Vue de la Terrasse de Mr. Franklin à Passi

P.G. Tavenard [after Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813)]
Paris, [1784?].
Etching, 15 x 10.5 cm.   
XC-10-2M (2893)

This view was seen by Lorimier from Benjamin Fanklin's home, reportedly with Franklin at his side. Franklin's house in the suburb of Passy, where he had settled as a diplomat in 1776, was quite near to the Château de la Muette, where the balloon was launched on November 21, 1783, carrying the first two people to fly, the Marquis d'Arlandes and Pilâtre de Rozier. This print, a variant of which forms the frontispiece of Faujas de Saint-Fond's Prèmiere suite de la description of 1784, depicts the scene from an intriguing perspective of earthiness, to which the free flight of the balloon strikes a forceful contrast. Two observers atop a roof on the lower right watch the progress of the balloon. According to Préaud, the publisher of this print, Nicolas-François Le Vachez, moved his establishment from rue de Grenell-Saint-Honoré to quai des Gevres in October 1784; as the latter address is given on the lower right, we can assume that this print appeared after this date. On this copy the ink has been effaced from parts of the envelope.  (This is undoubtedly part of a series by Le Vachez, discussed in the description of print XC-10-2M 2878: "Vuë d'Annonay en Vivarais," although the style of the title's lettering varies from others in the series, using roman capitals as in print XL-6 4622. For a view of quite another subject, but which shares the perspective of the rooftops, compare print XL-38 3167: "Thirty-six views around Fugaku.")

[Montgolfière of November 21, 1783]

Painting on wood, 29.5 x 21.4 cm.   
XP-XL-41 (3236)

The grounds of the Château de la Muette were crowded with thousands of people, yet the anonymous artist of this painting chose to present fewer spectators, giving a more casual impression.  The coloration of this painting suggests a relatively modern origin, although its rapidly sketched style makes a charming statement.

La traversée de Paris par Pilâtre de Rozier et le marquis d'Arlandes (21 Novembre 1783)

Marcel JeanJean (1893-1973)
Colored Lithograph, 24 x 17 cm.
XP-XL-14 (1500)

This dynamic view of the ascent of November 21, 1783, takes a perspective rarely exploited before the twentienth century. JeanJean, a World War I aviator and illustrator who was appointed official painter to the French minister of air in 1931, became known for his books and drawings on aeronautical themes. (This print is part of a series by JeanJean, including prints 1498-1500.)

Décente de la Machine Aërostatïque dans la Plaine au de la des Nouveaux Boulevards près le petit Gentilly . . . en cet endroit doit etre élevé une Piramide en mémoir éternelle a la gloire de M r. de Montgolfier. . .

Etching, colored, 22.7 x 30.4 cm. 
XP-XL-2 (3442)


This interesting print shows the landing of a Montgolfier balloon on November 21, 1783, an event witnessed by some who followed the balloon across Paris on horseback. There is a curious and probably inaccurate representation of the fire used to heat the balloon while aloft, and there is little trace of the chaotic conditions that prevailed at this landing. The author of this print suggests in the caption that a monument (which can be seen at right) be erected at this site, although the structure never materialized. A study by Elisabeth Boselli in the magazine Icare (105, 1983/2) discusses the place of landing at length and again proposes that a monument be erected there. Historian Charles Dollfus was able to identify the place of departure by speaking to the gardeners of the Bois de Boulogne, who had preserved an oral tradition.

Second voyage aérien. Expérience faite dans le Jardin des Thuilleries par M.M. Charles et Robert, le 1er. xbre. 1783

Nicolas De Launay (1739-1792), after a design by Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813), [Paris, 1784].
Etching and engraving,  15.4 x 10.5 cm.
XC-10-2C (3386)


A cult of sorts grew around J.A.C. Charles, whose successful flight on December 1, 1783, in the first man-carrying gas balloon seemed to capture the intrigue of the Parisians more than any other aeronautical event had done. Perhaps his popularity was due to his personality and style, both said to have been powerfully disarming. In any case, many thought his method of inflating balloons to be superior to the methods of the Montgolfiers, whose balloons were comparatively limited in endurance.

Le moment d'hilarité universelle, ou le triomphe de MMrs. Charles et Robert au Jardin des Thuileries le 1er. xbre.  1783.  Presenté à mon Pere pour son 89me. Anniversaire

J.H.E (i.e., Johann Heinrich Eberts) invenit et delinavit; H.G. Bertaux, sculpt. Paris, [1784]. Chez Le Noir.
Etching,  15 x 20.3 cm.
XP-XL-4 (1141)


A formal depiction of the balloon of December 1, 1783, this print is unusual (though not unique) for its portrayal of the balloon as it lifts off and again as it gains altitude. In addition, the artist shows the small pilot balloon released by Étienne Montgolfier in the upper left. The small vignette titled "Projet d'un monument" shows a tall pyramid surmounted by a small balloon, with two figures and a plaque at the base; the figures form part of a fountain. This design was no doubt intended for an unfinalized government competition to select a monument design in 1784 to commemorate the invention. In an unusually long notice, which includes many interesting details, the appearance of this print was announced in the Journal de Paris of March 5, 1784. Without mentioning his name, the notice refers to the artist as an amateur who produced the print in homage to his father, 89 years old. The artist donated 100 copies to benefit octogenarians, about a fifth of which he wished to have bestowed on an 89-year-old man. Some copies of the edition were printed on fine "Holland paper," in order to reduce the weight for those who wished to send the print abroad. The print was available from Le Noir ("sous le passage de la colonnade du Louvre") for 1 livre, 4 sous. The preparation of the plate is credited to Bertaux and Guttemberg le jeune, although only the former is mentioned on the print. The first four words of the title apparently refer to a phrase used by Charles in describing his flight in the Journal de Paris of December 13, 1783. (The vignette is repeated on another print in the Gimbel collection, "Etienne et Joseph Montgolfier, freres, Nés à Annonay en Vivares" [XC-10-2M 2870] where the vignette is titled: "Projet d'un monument a elever a M. Charles." The vignette was cynically remembered in 1784 when it was parodied on print XP-XL-5 1188: "Les deux Midas.")

Charles, aux Thuilleries,
le 1r Decembre MDCCLXXXIII

Simon Charles Miger (1736-1820)
Paris, [1784]. Engraving,  25.2 x 19 cm.   
XP-XL-20 (1821)

The physicist and balloonist J.A.C. Charles is shown before the image of a balloon (background, at top). Three lines of poetry suggest that Charles, personifying technology, has displaced a symbol of nature, the eagle:

Until then without equal
the King of the Air
follows his rival there.

Miger was an expert and well-known engraver, who had been elected to the Académie in 1778. The Journal de Paris of March 31, 1784, as well as the Gazette de France of April 6, announced this print, priced at 2 livres, 8 sous. (Marsh [pl.14] shows a crayon drawing upon which this print was no doubt based. Print XC-10-2C 3370 is the same work facing left, engraved by P.G. Tavenard. Compare XP-XL-20 1822, "Charles aux Thuileries le 1er December 1783" [another portrait]. The same three lines of poetry are repeated at bottom.)

Essai sur les machines aërostatiques pour les perfectionner et les employer utilement.  Par A.J.R...........Ingénieur. 1783.

Paris, [1783?]. Etching,  37 x 46.5 cm. 
Letters on balloon at right: "M./A.P.," and second from right: "M.C.R."
XP-XL-4 (1121)



The invention of the balloon brought forth many ideas for utilizing the new technology, and this print offers designs for a pump, a lift, and a semi-dirigible balloon. It suggests (in the left-most figure) a cylindrical shape for the carrying of "100 people and baggage," which is equipped with a chimney and stove to generate smoke and gas from wet straw, gunpowder, oiled paper, wool, rags, peat"—anything which can be cheaply had." The acronym "A.J.R." in the caption may refer to Anne-Jean Robert, who with his brother assisted J.A.C. Charles with his balloons and later constructed an elongated balloon which is shown in print XP-XL-4 1159.

La Coquette Phisicienne

Etching, 24 x 16.7 cm.   
XL-15 (4624)


The prints that survive of the balloon costume that was popular during the brief period of the "balloon craze" satirize the subject, so it is difficult to judge from them the exact nature of the style. No doubt exaggerated, they are consistent in showing hats, with sleeves, shoes, and skirts all enlarged with balloons. This print with its caption is apparently meant to suggest a moral lightness. (The figure in XP-XL-15 4624, "La Coquette Phisicienne," is copied in reverse in print XP-XL-15  1564, "La phisicienne galante," where the hat is changed. Other prints depicting the balloon costume are XP-XL-15 3433, "L'homme aux balons ou la folie du jour"; XP-XL-15 1563, "Le petit-maitre phisicien"; and XP-XL-15 1565,"Madame la Comtesse de M . . . devant aller voir la fameuse experience.")

Détails géométriques de la Machine Aérostatique Élevée à Lyon

Lyon, (1784). 
Engraving,  22 x 32.5 cm.
XP-XL-2 (1082)



In early December 1783, Joseph Montgolfier began to assemble this balloon, which was financed by a subscription. Despite a paternal prohibition against flying, Montgolfier hoped to make a long flight in the aircraft. The balloon was named for Jacques de Flesselles, Intendant of Lyon, and bore insignias symbolizing History and Fame. It was assembled with the help of Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, who arrived at Lyon on December 27. Progress was slowed by Pilâtre's commandeering style, by rain, by fire, and finally by snow. On the nineteenth of January 1784, the balloon was ready and six people (including Joseph Montgolfier and Pilâtre) took their places in the gondola—despite the evident frailty of the now-decrepit paper and cloth envelope. As the balloon left the ground, a seventh person jumped aboard. After a flight of about fifteen minutes, the envelope began to fail, and the balloon descended quickly to earth; it was the only time a Montgolfier ascended in a balloon. (The section "Aperçu de la construction par Mr. Montgolfier" [a feature sometimes seen on prints of the period] gives enough detail to let the enthusiast construct a balloon. Many prints were published of this balloon, including some that show a continuous scene on the envelope, without the four medallions as here.)

Experience du Vaisseau Volant de Mr Blanchard le 2 Mars 1784

Paris, [1784?]. Chez Basset. 
Etching,  19.4 x 31.4 cm. (image)
XP-XL-6 (1220)


The resurrection of the term vaisseau volant in a print apparently commissioned by Jean-Pierre Blanchard suggests that the inventor was hoping to salvage his reputation by modifying the ornithopter of the same name that he had constructed in 1782. This print shows two views of Blanchard's vaisseau volant, the center one with parachute, labeled "as it should have departed," and the view at right, labeled "as he departed by himself." The parachute visible on the left was arranged below the envelope, but not carried on the actual flight because of its weight, and one can see the "wings," or oars, have been left behind as well. Apparently to explain why equipment central to the trial was abandoned, the caption relates that Blanchard was to be accompanied by aeronaut Dom Pêche, but a young man, who hoped to accompany the balloonists, threw himself into the basket, "heavily damaging the machine." After a very brief flight with Dom Pêche, Blanchard ascended for a flight of three hours leaving Dom Pêche, the parachute, and the wings that are shown on the ground. It was the fourth man-carrying flight of a balloon.

Aréostat des MM. Robert, Fait d'après leur dessin

Paris, [1784?]. Chez [Le] Vachez. 
Etching and engraving,  27.3 x 19.5 cm.
XP-XL-4 (1159)


The elongated shape was immediately seen as a practical way of making the balloon aerodynamic, and as early as September 1784, the brothers Robert (who had served as technicians for J.A.C. Charles) had completed this aircraft and readied it for trial. The inset "Cartes des voyageurs" would no doubt have amused those who saw the balloon from afar and were curious as to the position and course of the aircraft.  (On a related print by the same publisher [Le Vachez] see XC-10-2M 2878. The medallion: "Cartes des voyageurs" is similar to other maps produced of flights, for example Gimbel XP-XL-6 1212: "Carte des marches aërographiques"; XP-XL-4 4604: "Rentrée du char triomphant"; and XC-10-2M 2870 "Etienne et Joseph Montgolfier, frères nés à Annonay" [with its "Cartes des premiers voyages aërostatiques"].)