The Colonel Richard Gimbel Aeronautical History Collection

The Genesis of Flight

Prints  1846 – 1902

Lehmann's Luftfahrt mit seinem Riesen Ballon, der "Adler von Wien" . . . 23 Mai 1846

Andreas Geiger.  Wien. [1846?]. At head: Besondere Bilder Beilage zur Theaterzeitung.
Engraving, 39 x 27.7 cm.
XP-XL-12 (1431)

Shown in the basket are Christian Lehmann, his daughter Caroline, and the Viennese scientist Dr. Johann F. Natterer. Caroline is throwing handbills from the basket, while the two men are involved in the customary waving of hats and flags. The wings on either side of the basket are presumably meant for propulsion.

Rouen en ballon.  Vue prise au dessus de la Cote Ste. Catherine

Jules Arnout (1814-1868)  Paris, 1846. Top: "Excursions aériennes."
Lithograph, 29 x 44.8 cm. "Impression par Lemercier, à Paris."
"Drawn from nature and lithographed by Jules Arnout.  London.
Published 25 March 1846."
XP-XL-10 (1340)


Jules Arnout, a student of Jean Sebastian Rouillard (1759-1850), was known for his landscapes of Italy, France, and Great Britain. The symbol "1" at bottom center may indicate that this is first in a series. (Print XP-XL-10 1341 is same with black and brown only. Compare, from the same series, XP-XL-10 1342; "Brighton. View taken in balloon. Brighton. Vue pris en ballon." The Gimbel collection includes nine of Arnout's aerial views of English and French cities, numbered XP-XL-10 1341-1349, about half dated 1846 and half undated. Included are views of Paris, Versailles, Blois, St. Cloud, Windsor, and Brighton.  Print XP-XL-20 1843 is a view of Alameda, Mexico.)

Machine aérienne par Carmien de Luze

Lithograph, 36.5 x 49 cm.   
XP-XL-18 (1756)


Carmien de Luze designed this airship, in which the envelope rotates on its longitudinal axis and propulsion is provided from the vanes striking the air.  According to John Grand-Carteret, the design was patented in 1862, and the airship itself was to appear in 1864. The design evokes both an earlier and later manifestation of the rotating envelope scheme: Pierre Ferrand's plan using a helical arrangement of planes around the envelope in 1835; and the Cyclocrane introduced in Oregon in 1984, which rotated its envelope in order to provide lift from airfoils fixed longitudinally around its periphery. Below the ship is a bizarre scenario of disaster and ruin, including a battle, a safari with elephants, a shipwreck, a ship struck by lightning, and a waterspout.

Locomotive aérostatique Pétin à double plan de suspension stable . . . Navigation aérienne système Pétin

[1850?], [Paris]. "Lith. Castille."
Lithograph, 29.5 x 55 cm. (image) on a sheet 40.4 x 59.8 cm. 
XP-XL-18 (1769)


Ernest Pétin, the designer of this aircraft, announces in the caption that it "will be launched into the air at Paris in July, 1851." Several methods are possible: the helical screws could be turned "by hand or by some other mechanical means" or the inclined planes could convert the vertical movement to forward motion, as in the design of Charles Guillé. A patent was issued for this aircraft on May 8, 1848. (What may be the original design for this large lithograph is an uncatalogued watercolor painting [16.5 x 22.5 cm.] in the Gimbel group "uncataloged matted prints.")

[Le Ballon dirigeable de Mr. Giffard—1852]

(Title in manuscript on mounting.)
Pen and ink drawing with wash, 19 x 22.7 cm.   
XP-XL-18 (1766)


A 3-horsepower steam engine powered this dirigible designed and flown from Paris by the renowned engineer Henri Giffard on September 24, 1852. Emile Cassé witnessed the flight and was struck by "the strange feeling we felt as we saw the brave inventor rise up in his machine to the whistling noise of the steam, replacing in these circumstances the usual waving of a flag." The aircraft was able to develop a speed of about 5 miles per hour. "Not for a single moment did I dream of struggling against the wind; the power of the engine would not have permitted it," Giffard reported. "That had been thought of in advance and proved by calculations; but I carried out various manoeuvres of circular and lateral movement successfully." Giffard built a second machine that was launched in 1855; it was similar to this one, but 230 feet long as opposed to 144. It failed during the initial flight. (This drawing shows a car with solid walls rather than the open nacelle of the actual machine.)

Scientific Ascent of Mr. H. Coxwell's Mammoth Balloon from the Crystal Palace, Sept. 1, 1862

C. Robinson, after a drawing by J. Taylor. London, September 13, 1862. "C. Robinson, Litho." 
Tinted Lithograph, colored, 37 x 60 cm.
XP-XL-14 (1508)


This flight was part of a series made famous by the corresponding publication of James Glaisher’s Voyages Aérienes and Travels in the Air. Glaisher claimed that during a scientific ascent a few days after the flight depicted here, on September 5, the valve line was lifted out of reach, the balloon went into an uncontrolled ascent, and rose to 36,000 feet before one of the balloonists regained control of the valve. The claim is rather incredible, as the ballooninsts could not have survived this altitude; it is thought that 24,000 feet is a more probable altitude. The caption asserts that the balloon "attained the elevation of six miles, the greatest height ever reached."

The Battle of Fair Oaks, Va. May 31st, 1862

New York, 1862. Currier and Ives,
Lithograph, colored.  20 x 31.4 cm.       
XP-XL-25 (2034)


Bruce Catton described the Civil War battle at Fair Oaks as "bloody enough, with five or six thousand casualties on each side, but . . . indecisive. The diaries of the men who fought in it cannot be put together to make a picture of anything but a series of savage combats in wood and swamp . . . there seemed to be no tactical plans other than a simple urge to get the men up into places where they could shoot at each other." Above this scenario, balloonist Thaddeus Lowe attempted to keep the Union army informed of enemy activity by ascending in three different captive balloons on the day of the battle. He claimed that this scouting was the most significant of his war-time service, as he was able to prepare the Union army for the attack with which the battle began. It was the most severe action that Lowe witnessed. Currier and Ives, the famous New York firm, which issued over 7,000 different images from 1857 to 1907, made three versions of this print, all titled as above and issued in 1862. Such scenes were standard fare for the firm, which published more than 70 prints whose title began with the word "battle." The Union army ceased using balloons after June 1863. (Included in the Gimbel collection is the uncolored version XP-XL-25 2034 [sic]; the two prints are very similar and are the same size. The uncolored has, as the first word in the last line of the caption, the word "bajonet," where the colored has "point of the bayonet." The principal difference in the two images is the position of the horseman's sword at upper right, which is pointed backward on the colored and forward on the uncolored.)

Jeu du ballon, Le Géant

Paris, [1863?].  Published by Rousseau, printed by Destouches, Paris.
Lithograph, colored, on paper, 60 x 44 cm.
XP-XL-22 (1875)

This board game is inspired by the huge balloon Le Géant, built by the famous photographer and aeronautical enthusiast Nadar (or Félix Tournachon). Le Géant held 212,000 cubic feet of gas and produced a lift of more than four tons; below this massive envelope was a two-story wicker car with a balcony, passenger compartments, a photographic lab, and a printing press. The balloon made two flights in 1863 from the Champ de Mars, on October 4 and 18. The first flight, with Nadar in command and two of the Godard brothers as assistants, carried twelve additional passengers. It ended only fifteen miles from Paris, probably because of a badly seated gas valve at the crown. The second flight was an overnight voyage of 400 miles, with Nadar and the Godards accompanied by six passengers; it ended with a spectacular crash landing in Germany. This flight was sensationalized by the press, and this board game was probably inspired by it. The game is played with dice, and the players advance from the twelve spaces at bottom (the "Champ de Mars") up the tether lines and net to the crown of the balloon. Players suffer penalties if they land on "accident" or "broken rope."  Landing on "valve" requires descent to the bottom of the basket, or car. Nadar flew Le Géant from various European cities until 1867.

Siège de Paris, Au Bastion

Draner (i.e., Jules Renard, 1833–? ), artist and lithographer
Paris, [ca. 1870]. 
Tinted Lithograph, 54 x 34.2 cm.   
XP-XL-14 (1506)


Sixty-six manned (and one unmanned) balloons, departed from Paris during the siege of 1870-1871, bringing out large quantities of mail and dispatches and, occasionally, political leaders needed for the war effort outside the besieged capital. This scene from the Franco-Prussion War appears to be apocryphal—the bastion shown, "No. 95," never existed.  Renard, whose pseudonym consisted of his name spelled backward, also published a series of colored views on the siege in book form, including Souvenirs du siège de Paris: les soldats de la République; Souvenirs du siège de Paris: les défenseurs de la Capitale; and Paris assiégé.

The New Dynamite Balloon—from the inventor's sketches

Wood engraving, 23.5 x 34.5 cm.   
XP-XL-18 (1755)


This print appeared in Harpers Weekly of May 23, 1885. A short accompanying article discusses the proposal of Russell Thayer, who designed the 185-foot-long "dynamite balloon" and suggested its use to the U.S. Navy. The airship was to drop "huge bombs" of dynamite, a material invented almost twenty years earlier but only recently embraced by the military. Although the article concedes that a satisfactory method for propelling airships was not at hand, it noted that "new methods hold out new possibilities." Predicting that recently developed engines would provide a solution, the article compares the advent of the airship to that of the marine screw propeller, concluding that the airships' "value in peace might overshadow their war uses." In France, in 1883 and 1884, Albert and Gaston Tissandier and Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs had launced electrically propelled airships that were only moderately successful. In the print, the artist dramatically shows discharged smoke, suggesting the use of steam. Two men are shown standing in the car, from which a bomb has just been dropped.

Ballon captif du Trocadéro . . . Louis Godard

Alphonse J. Liébert
Paris, [1889].
Photograph, 21.5 x 16.9 cm.   
XP-XL-14 (1514)

Dated 1889, this photograph shows the large captive balloon managed by Louis Godard, nephew of the famous Eugène Godard, a pioneer in the genre of the large balloon. Both were balloon builders, and the family included numerous balloonists, led by Eugène; Pierre, father of Eugène, and Eugène's brothers and sisters—Louis (son of Louis who managed the pictured balloon); August, Jules, and Eugénie. In fact the Godard name became so closely associated with the balloon that in 1960 historian Charles Dollfus claimed he could still find people in the French countryside who referred to any spherical balloon as a "godard." This view was no doubt taken during the Paris Exposition of 1889, which was visited by 32 million people, and during which the Eiffel Tower opened. Liébert, known for applying electric lighting to indoor photography, ran a concession at the Exposition to photograph balloon passengers. In the photograph, ten people fill the basket, which is draped by flags, including, curiously, that of Turkey, which was officially absent from the Exposition. Seen on the right, attached to the basket, is a heavy dragline and anchor, so the balloon is prepared for free flight should it sever its tether. In the background at lower left a wheeled hydrogen generator can be seen. This photograph evokes the famous grands ballons captifs of Henri Giffard, the last of which rose above Paris for the Exposition of 1878 and could carry fifty people; Giffard built his first great tethered balloon for the Exposition of 1867.

[Ascension of a balloon at the Tientsin military academy]

Scroll, with watercolor on silk;
five panels: three 53.5 cm. x 101.5, one 53.5 x 132, and one 53.5 x 310.


This scroll’s numerous written captions simply name the technical apparatus and other features, but it likely illustrates the activities of the summer of 1887, when the French introduced the first balloon into China. Two balloons were brought from France to the Tientsin military academy near Peking, including one of 3,000 cubic meters that could carry ten people. Though the balloons arrived in early April, the aeronaut Pillas-Panis worked until September instructing the academy’s students and staff in balloon history, technique and maneuvers. On October 2, 1887, Pillas-Panis ascended before a crowd he estimated to contain 200,000 people. By the end of November Pillas-Panis was able to entrust the operation to his students; the improvements to the grounds, including the corrugated metal balloon shed, suggest that the balloons were intended as permanent additions to the Chinese army.

Kites over Sakura District Viewed from the Emperor's Castle

Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Woodcut, 33.7 x 22 cm.
XP-XL-38 (3153)

In this woodcut, part of a series of 100 views around Tokyo produced between 1853 and 1856, Hiroshige, one of the most prominent of Japanese printmakers, shows a number of kites being flown. Presumably the scene is a breezy New Year's Day, since the game hagoita, with its shuttle in the center and paddles shown in the foreground, is generally played then. Kites, which came to the West from the Orient centuries ago, have their origins in ancient times, apparently around 200 B.C.E. They played an important role in the development of the airplane because experimenters extensively used kites to perfect wing structures.

Thirty-six Views Around Fugaku

Hokusai (1760–1849)
Woodcut, 24.7 x 36.8 cm.
XP-XL-38 (3167)


This view is part of a famous series of 46 prints of Fugaku (Mount Fuji) produced by Hokusai between 1825 and 1831, although 36 prints are cited in the title.  Above a bustling scenario, with workmen repairing the Hongan Temple in the foreground, the kite at center commands the scene, including the clouds that partially obscure the dwellings. This print might be compared to early French balloon prints and especially to Tavenard's "Vue de la Terrasse de Mr. Franklin à Passi," which includes the motif of an observer atop a roof. Hokusai was one of the most prominent of printmakers; his "Wave" (also a part of "Thirty-six Views"), which shows a distant Mount Fuji framed by large seas, is familiar to many Westerners.

[Woman on balcony looking at balloon]

Dry point, in sepia ink, 15.2 x 9.9 cm.   
XP-XL-16 (1621)

This fin de siècle image is without extraneous words; L'Avant Garde, which serves as the title to the newspaper, also suggests the meaning of the print. The clothing, iron railing, the swept-back hair, and the balloon all contribute to the modernism of the scene, elaborated by the artist's stylistic liberty.

Capture of El Caney, El Paso, and Fortifications of Santiago.  Charge of the Rough Riders.  At lower left: "July 1 & 2, 1898. General Shafter commanding 15,000 troops."

Copyright 1898 by Kurz and Allison,  Chicago.
Colored Lithograph, 44.8 x 60.2 cm.
XP-XL-25 (2017)


Under the command of the 300-pound Civil War hero, General William R. Shafter, American troops landed in Cuba on June 20, 1898, to continue the Spanish-American War; the conflict lasted about ten weeks and established Theodore Roosevelt as a national hero. In the battle of El Caney, near Santiago, Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt ordered his Rough Riders to attack fortifications on the hills above the battleground. During the battle, balloonist Ivy Baldwin ascended several times to observe the action in an antiquated balloon that the U.S. Army had purchased in France in 1892. The intelligence gained from the flights was of great value, but the balloon attracted a great deal of enemy fire onto the surrounding area, and many derided the role of the balloon, pointing out that it allowed enemy gunners to locate the army's position. General Shafter, incidentally, had been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1867 for his heroism in the Battle of Fair Oaks, which is represented in print XP-XL-25 2034.

[Wright glider in flight]

Photograph (modern silver print), 29.2 x 37.2 cm.
XP-XL-29 (2314)


This photograph shows one of the Wright brothers in flight during their Kitty Hawk trials of October 1902, after the twin-surface, fixed rudder had been replaced by a single-surface, adjustable one. The new rudder was designed to add much-needed stability, but the Wrights feared it was also going to add to the complexity of flying the aircraft. In Orville Wright's words, the pilot "would now not only have to think, and think quickly, in operating the front elevator . . . he would also have to think so as to operate this rudder." To simplify the pilot's task, the control of the rudder was made automatic and linked to the control for warping the wings and rolling the aircraft; it was later made independent. "With the machine as now constituted," wrote Orville, "we began a long series of gliding flights. The disastrous experiences which we had when the fixed vanes [i.e., the rudders] were used now seemed entirely avoidable." The Wright brothers made just over 300 photographs of their aeronautical work, partly to further and partly to document their own research. Their negatives were bequeathed to the Library of Congress in 1949.

Dayton June 1927 [Orville Wright]

Oscar Edward Cesare (1883-1948).  (Bracketed portion in pencil at lower edge.)
Drypoint, 27.7 x 20.4 cm.
XP-XL-29 (2304)

The Swedish-born Cesare was well known for his cartoons and portraits published in the United States and Europe from the First World War until the Second, and after 1920 he was a regular contributor to the New York Times.  Although Cesare developed the novel technique of portraying and interviewing his subject, this print was published as an illustration to an article by Lester J. Maitland ("Knights of the Air: The Immortal Wrights") which appeared in the September 1928 issue of The World's Work, a periodical that often featured news and commentary on flying. The print shown here was created about the time that Orville Wright met Charles Lindbergh at Wright Field just after Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic alone, and the two had dinner in Wright's home. (A drawing by Cesare featuring a full view of the face of Orville Wright appeared in the August 1925 issue of The World's Work.)

Zeppelin über dem Bodensee

Michael Zeno Diemer (1807- ? )
München, 1909.  Reichold and Lang. 
Colored lithograph, 55 x 75 cm.   
XP-XL-C (3099)


This poster was created in 1909, a significant year for Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and his dirigibles. An airship (LZ5) was completed in the spring, funded largely by contributions from the German people, and on May 29 Count Zeppelin undertook an ambitious flight from his base at Friedrichshafen almost to Berlin. The airship was damaged when it struck a tree at Goppingen while returning to Friedrichshafen, but completed the flight of 850 miles in 36 hours.  Another ship (LZ6) was completed in August, and after a flight to Berlin, gave a series of sightseeing tours over the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, situated between Switzerland and Germany.  Zeppelin's airships achieved notoriety in 1909, the same year that one was first accepted for military service by the German army.  In November, Count Zeppelin founded the famous Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktien-Gesselschaft (or "Delag"), which historians have called the "first commercial airline."

[Octavie No. 3 biplane of 1909]

Chromolithograph, 13.6 x 18.6 cm.   
XP-XL-41 (3226)


Gimbel's notes for this print, found on a separate card, read: "This pictures the Voisin Biplane of 1908 when Farman carried [the] first passenger, Leon Delagrange." But Gimbel was in error: the print depicts an aircraft somewhat different from Henri Farman's as it appeared on the flight of March 28, when it made a hop of 600 feet. That aircraft did not have a wheel under the nose, and it had not yet been fitted with the side-curtains between the planes, both of which are evident in the print. The number "20" on the empennage is certainly for the Reims aviation meet, held August 22 to August 29, 1909, from which we can conclude that the plane is the Octavie No. 3 built for Louis Paulhan and first flown on June 7, 1909. Among the 38 aircraft and 22 pilots entered at the Reims meet, the pictured plane distinguished itself by establishing a new duration record of 2 hours, 43 minutes, and took third place for distance by covering about 80 miles. The print is in a carved frame decorated with a balloon and kite.

Traversée de Paris par Em. Dubonnet

M. Branger
Collotype, 25.7 x 37.5 cm.   
XP-XL-19 (1792)


The first overflight of a major city by airplane is attributed to the Count de Lambert (Wilbur Wright's first pupil), who excited the Parisian populace on October 18, 1909, by circling the Eiffel Tower in a Wright airplane. But when Emile Dubonnet "aeroplaned" across the city on the afternoon of April 24, 1910, there was an even greater sensation. In a flight of about 42 miles Dubonnet crossed over the Place de la Concorde and flew down the Champs Elysées, all at an altitude of 200 feet, occasionally rising to 300. At such a height he was affected by eddies from the buildings, which he sometimes found "difficult to negotiate." Dubonnet was a pilot for Tellier Works, makers of speedboats and constructors of the monoplane shown in this print. (Lambert's flight is commemorated in print XP-XL-19 1801, "de Lambert im Wrightflieger über Paris.")

Ballon dirigeable militaire

(Paper cut-out model.)  Above: Grandes constructions.  Imagerie d'Épinal, no. 389.
Lithograph, colored, 36 x 44.6 cm.  (image)
XP-XL-19 (1782)


"Le Zeppelin" is one of a series of paper cut-out models collected by Gimbel.  When assembled, the model would be about 13 inches long; at center can be seen a small vignette showing the airship in flight. The model probably dates from about 1910, as it emulates the Zeppelins made between 1905 and 1910. In 1910 five Zeppelins began to be used for a tourist service in Germany that carried over 35,000 passengers until the beginning of the World War in 1914.

The Channel Flight: Blériot—July 25th, 1909

H. Delaspre
London, [1909?]. 
Chromolithograph, 33.7 x 44.7 cm.   
XP-XL-19 (1803)


The wealthy Louis Blériot began dabbling in airplanes in 1906; committed to monoplanes, he built three during 1907, the last of which included most of the features we associate with the modern airplane, although neither wing-warping nor ailerons were used with the main wings. Two years later, in July 1909, he won the Daily Mail prize of £1,000 by flying across the English Channel from France to England in his monoplane No. XI, an aircraft with a wingspan of about 25 feet, powered by a 25-horsepower engine. The event attracted wide attention and the reputation of Blériot as an airplane builder was assured.