Montgolfier balloon


In September 1783 one managed to for the first time in history lift a living creature, not physically able to fly itself, from the surface of earth. Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier, more known as the Montgolfier brothers, had by watching laundry getting dry over the fire discovered that small air pockets were formed in the fabric and made it fly towards the sky. They were the sons of paper manufacturer Pierre Montgolfier and had by that an infinite access to paper. This fact turned out to be quite vital in their future lives.


Joseph was the typical scientist. He was a bit of a loner and enjoyed spending time thinking and studying on his own. Etienne was, in opposite to his brother, a business minded person. He had been studying architecture in Paris during a couple of years and had learned a lot of valuable knowledge about constructions. Together I’d say they were the ultimate inventor. Joseph had been thinking and developing the theory about the hot air pockets in the clothes and investigated if the same phenomenon would occur in a balloon made of paper. With Etienne’s ability to construct and their free access to paper through the dead father’s manufacture the first hot air balloon was built. It was a big success and the brothers got eager to develop their balloon and make it bigger. This eventually led to a hot air balloon big enough to be able to carry a human being.


On the nineteenth of September the two brothers were invited to the castle Versailles to demonstrate their balloon. As an honour of the day the balloon had a blue colour in the same shade as the sky it would lift towards and decorated with golden stars, suns and signs of the zodiac.


Even though they were eager to feel air under their feet they were careful enough to not let a human being be the first one to try the balloon, since they did not know how our bodies would be affected physically. In the basket, specially put together for the purpose, they placed a sheep called Montauciel (which beautifully enough means “Climb to heaven”), a duck and a rooster. The sheep was estimated to have a similar physiology as humans and therefore it would be easier to see how humans would be affected. The duck and the rooster was expected to be unharmed by the investigation but was there mostly to try the air craft since they are birds that are not used to be as high up in altitude. So the three animals were the first living creatures to, by help of a human invention, leave the surface of earth. This was performed in front of a crowd of applauding nobles; among them King Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.


It is easy to understand that the Montgolfier balloon was something spectacular. Humans have always been interested in how to make the impossible possible, to make humans fly and to be able to see the world from another perspective. The Montgolfier balloon was the first time it was actually possible, it opened up a lot of doors that had been closed until now.

I found it interesting that they actually used animals in the experiment. It is now very common to use animals in different types of tests and it is strongly discussed whether it is fair or not. Is it likely that animals would have been used in an investigation like this today? And is it true that humans always have been interested in how to be able to fly? And if it is true, why do you think we are? Do humans by nature want to be able to do everything even though we are not physically able to do so?


Victoria Gunnerek

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