My fascination with hot air balloons dates back to childhood, and the first time I saw one in the movie The Wizard of Oz. I’m not sure if it was because of my youth or because the balloon belonged to the “Wizard of Oz,” but it seemed pretty magical to me that there existed balloons so big you could actually fly away in them. Of course, it’s science that makes them fly, not magic, and inventors have been taking these flights of fancy for hundreds of years.
The eighteenth century saw many advances in ballooning, among them pioneering flights by the Montgolfiers, two French brothers, including a public demonstration of their unmanned hot air balloon at Annonay, France in June 1783. This demonstration is captured in one of the collecting cards below (bottom row, second from left), along with other events in ballooning history from 1783 to 1883.
As the name implies, hot air balloons float because the air in the balloon is heated. Balloons containing gases such as helium and hydrogen are another option for floating into the clouds. Over the years, balloons have served many purposes ranging from surveillance to weather data gathering to simply getting a new view of the world below.
A new perspective of the Eiffel Tower and the buildings of the 1889 Paris Exposition came courtesy of a balloon, as seen here:
Balloon races took place in Europe and the United States. Here we see the launch of the Internationale Ballon-Wettfahrten in Berlin, which took place in October 1908.
Nearly a hundred years later, balloon enthusiasts still take to the skies en masse, as seen in this 2006 photo of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta:
- Explore the Tissandier Collection, which contains approximately 975 items documenting the early history of aeronautics with an emphasis on balloon flight in France and other European countries. View more images related to the Montgolfier brothers and their balloons.
- Read over previous Picture This blog posts from our series on transportation-related images: Pictures to Go.
- Enjoy more hot air balloon festival photographs from the Carol M. Highsmith collection.
- View more images related to balloon races.
- Take to the skies with other views of cities taken from balloons. Photographers who preferred to stay on the ground could send their cameras up on their own, attached to captive airships, in order to take panoramic views.