Up, up and away!

Back in July last year, I kicked off this blog with a post about Louis Blériot’s historic crossing of the English Channel a century ago. Blériot’s journey is rightly considered a momentous event in aviation history, but it wasn’t the first flight across. That happened 225 years ago this week.

Whilst Blériot had a powered, heavier-than-air craft, on 7 January 1785, Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries were the first people to cross the Channel in a balloon.

Oil painting of the first balloon crossing of the English Channel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Oil painting of the first balloon crossing of the English Channel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

This is a wonderful pair of oil paintings by E. W. Cocks painted in about 1840. The first shows the balloon leaving Dover, whilst the second depicts the triumphant arrival in Calais.

Oil painting of the first balloon crossing of the English Channel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Oil painting of the first balloon crossing of the English Channel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

If you look closely you can make out a paddle-steamer in the background of each picture. A bit of artistic licence, there. Whilst the first steamboat trials were indeed being carried out in the 1770s and 1780s, practical paddle-steamer services weren’t launched until the early nineteenth century (more on that at a later date).

Still, what a remarkable experience it must have been for the two men. The journey from England to France took about four-and-a-half hours, and came just over a year after Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier demonstrated the world’s first balloon flight in 1783. This model of the Montgolfier balloon is on show in our Flight gallery:

Model of the Montgolfier balloon used in 1783 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Model of the Montgolfier balloon used in 1783 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Ballooning became quite a craze, and spawned a whole new market in ballooniana – snuff boxes, fans, bowls and umbrella tops. More about our fine collection of these trickets another time…

One thought on “Up, up and away!

  1. Pingback: Stories from the stores » Explosive gases, useless children and a lot of hot air

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