The Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection

The Genesis of Flight

Prints  1797 – 1843

[Garnerin's descent by parachute]

Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier (1759-1813)
Gouache over graphite, 18.5 x 13 cm.   
XB-9-3A (4603)

This handsome painting shows what is thought to be the descent by André Jaques Garnerin on October 22, 1797. On that day, Garnerin launched his hydrogen balloon from Parc Monceau in Paris and descended by parachute from 3,000 feet. His descent was successful except that the parachute, which had no provision for spilling air, developed violent oscillations. The painting bears the signiture "L.M.," which is that of Étienne Chevalier de Lorimier.

Le Goût du Jour no. 8.

Paris, [1802].  Captioned "Ascension de Madame Garnerin le 28 mars 1802."  At top is the phrase: "Caricatures Parisiennes."
Lithograph, colored, 16.4 x 23.7 cm.
XP-XL-11 (1399)


This plate emphasizes the new clothing fashion of the early nineteenth century, with its high-waisted styles. The men sport exaggerated beaver hats and coats, which are cut dramatically away at the waist with long tails; the woman at left carries a fan, and she is draped with a colorful wrap. Jean-Geneviève Garnerin, wife of André Jacques, is considered the first female pilot and the first woman to descend in a parachute. In addition, their niece, Elisa Garnerin, considered the first professional female parachutist, made about forty descents between 1815 and 1836.

Bataille de Fleurus.

Fabrique de Pellerin . . . à Epinal
Epinal (France), [after 1815], Wood engraving, 32 x 53.3 cm.   
XP-XL-25 (2019)



One of the first uses of the balloon in war was at the battle of Fleurus on June 26, 1794. The balloonists made important observations and relayed information that provided a real advantage to the French army, which faced 52,000 Austrian and German troops. Information from the airborne observers allowed General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan (commander, Armée du Nord) to monitor the rather unorganized movements of his enemy and repulse them in a battle of six hours; the battle is considered pivotal in the War of the First Coalition, which ended in 1797. After making repeated attempts to advance into the region around Fleurus during 1794, Jourdan and his army were very much discouraged by the time of the battle, but the general was urged on and even threatened by the civil commissioners of France. The publisher of this print, the Fabrique de Pellerin, produced rather simple images for the general public; it was named for its founder, Charles Pellerin (1756-1836), who produced many celebratory works such as this in the town of Epinal, famous as a center for popular images.

Bataille de Fleurus gagnée par l'Armée Française, le 8 Messidor, de l'An 2

Pierre Adrien Le Beau (1748–? ), after a drawing by Naudet
Engraving, 33.4 x 48.6 cm.
XL–25 (2020)


Another view of the battle of June 26, 1794, shows the coalition troops on the left and the French on the right, with the balloon aloft above the battle. The French balloon company, organized in April 1794, has been called "the first air corps in history," and its objectives were threefold: to provide reconnaissance, to relay signals between units on the ground, and to spread propaganda from the air. By June 10, 1794, the French balloon company had joined Gen. Jean-Baptiste Jourdan's army at Maubeuge and began to provide reconnaissance from the air. A second company was formed on June 23 but was not deployed until 1795.  Both units were active until the 1st company and its balloon were captured at the battle of Würtzburg on September 3, 1796. Despite some success, the French balloon corps was troublesome to maintain, and it was disbanded in 1799.

Flugmaschine. Erfunden von Jacob Degen in Wien, 1807

Etching, colored, 28.2 x 43 cm.   
XP-XL-18 (1780)


Swiss watchmaker Jacob Degen constructed this ornithopter and began trials with it in 1806, first using a counterweight to help hoist it and keep it aloft, and then employing a small balloon. He gave demonstrations in Vienna and then came to Paris, where in 1812 the aircraft was destroyed by a mob. Degen rebuilt it, trying it again in Paris in 1813 and in Vienna in 1817. He is known to have experimented with a small helicopter in 1816. It is said that Degen's trials were the motive for Sir George Cayley to publish his famous paper "On Aerial Navigation," which appeared in the Journal of Natural Philosophy in three parts in 1809 and 1810.

Expérience aréostatique. Exécutée dans le Champ-de Mars à Paris le 27bre 1812 par M.r Degen, mécanicien de Vienne en Autriche

Foursny  "Gravé sur verre et Imprimé par Foursny. Deposé à la direction gale de la Librairie."
Etching or engraving on glass, colored, 24.1 x 19.6 cm.
XB-8-3B (1049)



The text of this print emphasizes the success of Degen's ornithopter in its trial of September 2, 1812, and makes it clear that the mechanical wings were the important part of the aircraft, since the attached balloon provided only "90 pounds of ascensional force." As the phrase "engraved on glass" at lower left relates, this image is printed from a glass plate—an uncommon and a relatively short-lived intaglio technique. (Gimbel XB-8-3B 1004 shows the mob destroying the ornithopter on October 5, 1812.)

Projet de ballon planeur de Ch. Guillé (1816)

Ink and water color on (hand-made) paper,with manuscript annotation: "Projet du ballon planeur de Ch Guillé (1816) Lecornu p. 139," 29.6 x 41 cm.   
XL-11 (1387)


Louis Charles Guillé made this elongated envelope with long stabilizing surfaces, which were meant to guide the balloon forward while it ascended and descended.  On November 13, 1814, Guillé demonstrated this unsuccessful craft in the Champ de Mars in Paris. The design enjoyed continued life when Jules François Depuis-Delcourt published it (as plate 5) in his Nouveau manuel complet d'aérostation of 1850. The inclined plane is a fairly common concept for guiding balloons; for example, in 1851 it was advocated by Constantino Cernuschi and in 1859 by John Wise. Guillé made the first parachute descent in the United States, when he dropped from a balloon over New York on August 2, 1819.

M.S. Blanchard Célèbre Aéronaute, au moment de son ascension aérienne suivie à Turin, Le Soir du 26 avril 1812

Etching and engraving, 28 x 17.8 cm.   
XP-XL-20 (1819)

The professional aeronaut, Marie Madeleine Sophie Blanchard, was the wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, whom she married in 1798.  She was well known for her night ascents. Her sixty-seventh ascent, in July 1819, was her last. Although the accounts of her last flight are contradictory, it appears that after fireworks were lit below her basket, the balloon caught fire; she extinguished the fire and arrested the descent of the balloon but finally collided with a roof and was thrown from the basket to the ground and killed. Marie Blanchard was Jean-Pierre's second wife (he had married Victoire Le Brun in 1774 and abandoned her in 1779). (Bruel [no. 143] reproduces another version, dated 15 August 1811, celebrating Marie Blanchard's ascent in Milan, which is signed at lower left "N.H.G." and at lower right "L. Rados." This print can also be found with the date 19 April 1812; Caproni shows the two prints [15 August 1811, and 19 April 1812] side by side [no. 73].)

Fête du 14 Juillet an IX.

[Paris? 1801?].   
Engraving, colored, 23.7 x 41.4 cm. (image) 
XP-XL-9 (1300)



Numerous prints celebrate the commemorative use of the balloon in official functions, especially in the Napoleonic era. This print represents a celebration on July 14, 1801, which commemorated the formation of the French republic, a day then referred to as the "Anniversary of the Federation" by the French and now referred to as Bastille Day by English-speakers. It memorialized the taking of the small state prison and fortress, the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, by Parisian citizens after a four-hour battle; to the revolutionaries, the prison represented the arbitrary power of the king, who could imprison without trial.  In 1801 the Anniversary of the Federation began at six in the morning with thirty rounds of cannon fire and included displays of statuary, pantomime exhibitions, skits, balls, orchestras, and the balloon ascension depicted here. In the evening, the theatres were opened to the public without charge, and fireworks decorated the sky.

This view of the Champs Elysées shows the scene of the festivities, and the caption relates that a "temple has been constructed in the square of the Champs Elysées, in which the concert was held." The balloon in the background is shown dropping a parachute; it probably is that of André Jacques Garnerin. In the upper left a small, unmanned balloon can be seen. (The Gimbel collection includes numerous examples of this genre, including: XP-XL-9 1318: "The Chinese Pagoda and bridge . . . for the Grand Jubilee of the 1st of August"; XP-XL-9 1319: "Coronation procession of his Majesty George the Fourth 19 July 1821"; XP-XL-9 1321: "London Bridge opened by King William IV and Queen Adelaide, August 1, 1831"; XP-XL-9 1330: "Révolution Française 1848, fête de la Concorde"; XP-XL-11 1369: "Vue perspective du Champ de Mars le jour de la fête donée le 24 Juin 1810"; XP-XL-11 1386: "Entrée triomphante de S.M. Louis xviii dans sa capitale.")

Fête du sacre et couronnement de leurs Majestés Impériales.  Vue de la Place de la Concorde

Jacques Marchand (1769–? ), engraver, and Jean-Baptiste Gautier, etcher, after a drawing by Louis Le Coeur
Paris, [1804?].   
Etching and engraving, colored, 35.7 x 45.8 cm.
XP-XL-9 (1305)


On December 2, 1804, Napoleon and Josephine were crowned emperor and empress of the French, and the public celebrations included a parade of musicians and the launch of balloons. This view is taken from the Place de la Concorde on December 3. Five balloons were launced that day, including the one shown here, which carried a massive eagle, surrounded by flags and surmounted by a garland. The balloons were designed to be consumed by fire while aloft, adding to the spectacle. Another balloon, carrying an imperial crown, flew all the way to Rome, where part of it is said to have been deposited on the tomb of Nero. André Jacques Garnerin, who executed the coronation event, reportedly lost his job over this incident and was replaced by Marie Blanchard. The life dates of the artist, Le Coeur, are not recorded, but he was born during the second half of the eighteenth century and is known for his prints of the French Revolution.

Fête donée par la ville de Paris à Louis XVIII le 29 Aout 1814

Paris, [1814?].
Etching, colored, 26 x 40.5 cm.   
XP-XL-9 (1320)



In 1814 the allied armies of Europe at last overcame Napoleon and entered Paris. Napoleon, no longer the hero of France, was exiled to Elba. In the vacuum that ensued after Napoleon's abdication, the allied powers agreed that a restoration of the Bourbons was the safest and best choice. This scene shows the return of Louis XVIII to Paris; the procession of the king was accompanied by the launch of a series of aerostatic animals and riders on horses. (An English print [XP-XL-9 1310] shows the same event but depicts a full-sized and manned balloon.)

New Hungerford Market, London; Graham's balloon on opening day, 2 July 1833]

Watercolor, 15 x 20 cm.   
XP-XL-9 (1323)



This scene depicts the New Hungerford Market and the celebration that opened it in 1833. The old Hungerford Market had been established in 1680 but had never prospered and was rebuilt in 1833 as a meat and vegetable market. It was demolished about 1860, when the Charing Cross Railway Station was constructed nearby. George Graham was active as a balloonist from 1823 to 1851; his wife, Margaret Graham, was active from 1824 to 1853. (Gimbel XP-XL-9 1324 is a print showing three people in the basket at lift-off.  Marsh [plate 80] shows another print by M. O'Connor, London, "View of the New Hungerford market as it appeared at the opening on the 2nd of July 1833.")

North Front of the Heath.  As it apeared Nov.r, 1836 in celebration of the Birth of a Son and Heir to J. Ackers,

E. Hodgson [1836?].   
Lithograph, 20.3 x 29 cm.   
XP-XL-9 (1328)


A spirited celebration with cannon fire, marching band, roasted viands, and a balloon ascension commemorated the birth of James Ackers, Jr., born on November 18, 1836. Beyond the information provided by the print, we know only a few biographical details concerning the family. James Ackers' parents were married in 1832. His mother, Mary Williams Ackers, died in 1848. His father, James Ackers (1811-1868) was a Member of Parliament for Ludlow in Shropshire, England, from 1841 to 1847. It is unclear where this scene occurred, as the family did not acquire Prinknash Manor southeast of Gloucester, until 1847. James Ackers, Jr. died in December 1859 at the age of twenty-three.

The Vauxhall Royal Balloon, Formed of 2000 yards of Silk

F. Alvey, after W.S. (William Spooner?)   London, [1836?]. Published by William Spooner.  Signed lower left (in image): "W.S."
Lithograph, colored, 30.5 x 23 cm.   
XP-XL-12 (1406)

Charles Green designed this balloon, which had its first flight on September 9, 1836. The crowded car was reportedly capable of carrying 28 people. The Vauxhall Royal Balloon, which was about 70,000 cubic feet in capacity, was built under the auspices of London's Royal Vauxhall Gardens as an attraction.

[Environs of Liège, seen from the balloon at night]

A. Butler, after a sketch by Monck Mason
Lithograph, 11.5 x 16.5 cm.   
XP-XL-12 (1410)


This innovative sketch shows the Vauxhall Royal Balloon as it flies over Liège, Belgium, with blast furnaces visible below. The creator of this sketch, Monck Mason, accompanied Robert Holland with Charles Green as pilot on a voyage of about 380 nautical miles from London to a place near Weilburg, Germany.  Mason described the flight through darkness as "clearing our way through an interminable mass of marble." It was a flight of eighteen hours, beginning on November 7, 1836. A broadside advertising the balloon (see "Grand new balloon, to be called the Vauxhall Royal Balloon," XP-XL-12 1404 in Other Holdings) describes the many virtues of this aircraft, first flown in September 1836; its large capacity would allow it to ascend to hitherto unattained heights and seek out "currents of air proceeding in one direction for several months together." For the flight pictured here almost 100 pounds of food and 2 gallons each of sherry, port, and brandy were carried. The journey received much publicity, and the Vauxhall Royal Balloon was renamed the Great Balloon of Nassau to honor the Duchy of Nassau, where the balloon landed. It remained in service for 35 years and was purchased by the balloonist Henry Coxwell who used it for the famous ascent shown in print XP-XL-14 1508.

Grands détails circonstanciés sur l'apparition prochaine, en Provence, de l'étonnant ballon-monstre

Marseille, [1839?].
Letterpress with woodcut, Imprimerie de Nicolas, à Marseille, 25.8 x 24.2 cm.
XP-XL-16 (1646)



This simply executed print parodies the beginnings of the Chartist Movement in England, which called for egalitarian reforms. In 1839 more than a million Englishmen signed a "monster petition" stating six demands, including annual meets of Parliament and universal male suffrage. The monster petition was presented to Parliament on July 12, 1839, and rejected the same day. On July 22, the Chartists called for a "sacred month"—a general, month-long strike to begin on August 12. A week before the strike was to begin, the movement's leaders acknowledged a lack of support for a prolonged protest and called instead for a strike from August 12 to 15, predicting that the government would collapse by the latter date. Equating the events in England with this obviously unwieldy scheme for a flying town, the text of this French print reports the flight of the ballon-monstre on August 15. Elaborating on Étienne Robertson's Minerve of 1804, the print depicts a balloon with a railroad that runs around the exterior of the envelope, 24 streets containing 80 houses each, boulevards with cafés and a complement of soldiers. The text advertises a flight from England to France for 4,568 passengers on January 3, 1840.

Volo dell' aereonauta Francesco Orlandi eseguito nei pubblici Giardini di Bologna l'anno 1839

G. Meloni   
Lithograph, colored, 28 x 41.2 cm.
XP-XL-12 (1423)


Despite the death in June 1785 of Pilâtre de Rozier and Jules Romain in their combination hot-air and hydrogen balloon, experimenters continued to build balloons that combined these elements. The aeronaut Francis Olivari lost his life in one on November 25, 1802, at Orléans, as did Francesco Zambeccari on September 21, 1812, near Boulogne. Francesco Orlandi, whose balloon is shown in this print, seems to have been the most successful with these aircraft.  Orlandi published a treatise on ballooning, suggesting his new design, in 1800. His first flight did not occur until August 30, 1825, after which he made 40 flights. This print commemorates his flight on July 22, 1839, when he ascended from the public gardens in Bologna. His work was furthered in print, although not in practice, by his son Guido as late as 1871. Others, including Pascal Andreoli and Phillipe Silvestrini, experimented with combination balloons in Italy during the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Altre scoverte fatte nella Luna dal Sig.r Herschel

Naples, 1836.
Lithograph, colored, 50 x 41 cm.
XP-XL-27 (2251)

The New York Sun temporarily boosted its circulation in August 1835 with reports by astronomer John Herschel of "man bats" that roamed the "pebbly beaches" of the moon. The story, ostensibly copied from the Edinburgh Journal of Science but actually written in New York by Richard A. Locke, became quickly known around the world, in part because the Sun sent the report abroad in the form of a generic pamphlet. The Sun ran Locke's detailed observations daily from August 25 to August 31, while "the almost universal impression and expression of the multitude was that of confident wonder and insatiable credence." Edgar Allan Poe, who had just begun the publication of his own serial story describing Hans Pfaal's voyage to the moon, later wrote that people should have known better, especially since the description of the wings in Locke's report "was but a literal copy of the wings of his flying islanders"—a reference to the hero of The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkens by Robert Paltock, published in 1751. The Sun lauded itself for "diverting the public mind, if only for a while, from that bitter apple of discord, the abolition of slavery," yet skepticism spread more tardily than the hoax had, and as late as 1852 it was reported that the story was still believed in parts of Germany. This Italian print, designed by Leopoldo Galluzzo and published by Gatti e Dura, was part of a series of six published in 1836. Locke's hoax made a considerable impact in Italy where, according to Caproni, twelve pamphlets and twenty prints relating to it were issued in 1836. (In addition to the account in this newspaper, Sun publisher Benjamin H. Day also issued print XP-XL-27 2233, "Lunar animals and other objects discovered by Sir John Herschel," which was reportedly ready for sale when the story's run was completed on August 31, 1835.  The Gimbel collection includes all of the six prints in the Gatti and Dura series: XP-XL-27 2251–2256.)

The Great Nassau Balloon . . . accompanied by the Parachute in which the late unfortunate Mr. Cocking made his fatal descent, July 24th, 1837

London, [1837?].  T. Pewtress.
Lithograph, 33 x 22 cm.     
XP-XL-20 (1991)

Robert Cocking, a 61-year-old watercolor painter, had long mused upon the perfection of the parachute. In 1837, he convinced the proprietors of the Royal Vauxhall Gardens to permit their Great Nassau balloon to carry him aloft for a trial. (Print XP-XL-24 1990 is colored, showing a balloon with gores of green, purple, and blue, although this famous balloon was actually red and white. Some of the caption is trimmed off.)

The Ascent of the Royal Nassau Balloon with the Parachute attached, 24th July 1837

Lithograph, 28.4 x 45 cm.
XP-XL-24 (1993)



Robert Cocking had apparently watched a famous parachute descent by André Jacques Garnerin on September 21, 1802, during which the violent oscillations of the 23-foot parachute greatly fatiqued the parachutist. Then 24 years old, Cocking resolved to improve the device and apparently mused upon it for years. He saw the inverted shape as the means to obtain stability during the descent, and he tested his design with small parachutes dropped from diminutive hydrogen balloons. His working model was a heavy contraption, 107 feet in circumference and 10 feet in height, with three metal hoops connected by spars of wood. Weighing 223 pounds, it provided a surface of 124 square yards.  (Garnerin's descent is represented by print XP-XL-24 2000, "Expérience du parachute.")

The fatal Descent of the Parachute by which Mr. Cocking lost his life

Lithographs, colored, 21 x 15.5 cm. (each image)
XL-24 (1996)

Robert Cocking tested his parachute on July 24, 1837. Charles Green, the pilot of the Great Nassau balloon, which lifted the parachute, wanted Cocking to be responsible for his own release, so a "liberating iron" was designed and mounted on the balloon and controlled by Cocking from the basket of the parachute. The parachute descended for only three or four seconds before collapsing and then Cocking fell precipitously, dying shortly after contacting the ground. The tragedy generated much attention in the press and among England's printmakers.

[Volo del Bolognese Muzio Muzzi nell'aereonave rettiremiga]

G. Meloni
Bologna, [1838].  Zannoli.
Lithograph, 28.4 x 42 cm.
XP-XL-12 (1414)


Muzio Muzzi of Bologna, son of Professor Luigi Muzzi of the Papal University of Bologna, developed dirigible designs in the 1830s and 1840s. The "aereonave rettiremiga" shown in this print relied on rotating vanes for propulsion and a narrow, disc-shaped envelope for speed. This airship was scheduled to fly on November 4, 1838, but the envelope's failure during inflation prevented the attempt. Another design of Muzzi's, a "Nave Aerortoploa," which called for forward motion given by inclined planes while the airship ascended and descended, was patented in Europe and the United States. The airship was never built, but a model was exhibited in New York in 1844, and a pamphlet cataloging support for his ideas was published in 1845. Muzzi, born in Bologna in 1809, died in Cuba in 1846. (Another depiction: XP-XL-31 2729 shows two images of this aircraft, one with paddles mounted on the equator of the balloon, the other with the paddles mounted on the basket.)

The First Carriage, the "Ariel"

London, 1843. 
Colored lithograph, 23.2 x 33 cm.   
XP-XL-19 (4682)


John Stringfellow and W.S. Henson worked together to produce what became well known as "Henson's aerial steam carriage," an airplane that certainly resembles the machine that was invented fifty years later. The Aerial Transit Company, in which the inventor Frederick Marriott was involved, heavily publicized the steam carriage and issued a number of promotional prints showing the aircraft in flight over various landmarks around the world. Both the Illustrated London News (April 1, 1843) and the Parisian L'Illustration (April 8) published views of the machines with drawings of the workings, although in other forums the plans met with ridicule. In 1847 a model of the steam carriage, with a 20-foot wingspan, failed in trials, and the discouraged Henson abandoned the invention. Stringfellow, however, pursued it and prepared a working model in 1848, followed by a less successful model triplane, which he exhibited at the Aeronautical Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, London, in 1868. (The full caption reads: "By permission of the Patrons this engraving of the First Carriage, the "Ariel," is respectfully inscribed to the Directors of the Aerial Transit Company by their obedient servants . . ."  Another print depicting the "Aerial" in the Gimbel collection is 1788: ". . . The first carriage, the 'Ariel'." London, 1843 [XP-XL-19].  Another copy, XP-XL-19 1788c, is not colored.)