Pictures to Go: Up in the Air

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.

Collecting cards with pictures of events in ballooning history from 1783 to 1883. Printed between 1890 and 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.02562

Collecting cards with pictures of events in ballooning history from 1783 to 1883. Printed between 1890 and 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.02562

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:

Aerial view of Paris, France, from a balloon, showing the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower at center, and buildings of the Exposition universelle. Photo by Alphonse Liébert, 1889. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b40739

Aerial view of Paris, France, from a balloon, showing the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower at center, and buildings of the Exposition universelle. Photo by Alphonse Liébert, 1889. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b40739

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.

Field and balloons in Berlin Balloon Race. Photo from George Grantham Bain Collection, 1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.02937

Field and balloons in Berlin Balloon Race. Photo from George Grantham Bain Collection, 1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.02937

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:

Annual balloon festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2006 October 7. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.04874

Annual balloon festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2006 October 7. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.04874

Panorama de Paris. Vu de la nacelle du grand ballon captif à vapeur de la cour des Tuileries. Lithograph, 1878. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.34806

Panorama de Paris. Vu de la nacelle du grand ballon captif à vapeur de la cour des Tuileries. Lithograph, 1878. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.34806

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3 Comments

  1. Carl Fleischhauer
    March 20, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    It is a little hard to distinguish but I am pretty sure that the German postcard says Weltfahrten, i.e., “world trips.”

    • Kristi Finefield
      March 20, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Hi, thanks for the comment.

      I do not read or speak German with any fluency, so may make grammatical mistakes in my explanation, but the word is actually Wettfahrten, rather than Weltfahrten. A wett is a bet, and combined with fahrten for trips, the translation you’ll find for this compound word is ‘races’. I guess the idea is that a trip on which you might bet is a race! I found a number of published accounts discussing ballon wettfahrten while writing this post. One place you can find this term in use is within newspapers of the early 1900s, some of which are digitized in Chronicling America. A search for ‘ballon wettfahrten‘ in Chronicling America returns a few dozen results, including many from a German American newspaper published in Baltimore, MD from 1841-1918, Der Deutsche Correspondent.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. Pedro Buitrago
    March 20, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Fantastic, far away days,

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