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The Montgolfier Brothers

early flight

Joseph-Michel Montgolfier (26 August 1740 – 26 June 1810) and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier (6 January 1745 – 2 August 1799) were the inventors of the montgolfière, globe airostatique or hot air balloon.

The brothers succeeded in launching the first manned ascent to carry a young physician and an audacious army officer into the sky. Later, in December 1783 in recognition of their achievement, their father Pierre was elevated to the nobility and the hereditary appellation of de Montgolfier by King Louis XVI of France (the right to the title transfers automatically to his children).


Early Years

The brothers were born into a family of paper manufacturers in Annonay, in Ardèche, France. Their parents were Pierre Montgolfier (1700-1793), and his wife Anne Duret (1701-1760), who had sixteen children. Pierre established his eldest son Raymond Montgolfier, later Raymond de Montgolfier (1730-1792) as his successor.


Joseph Michel Montgolfier

Joseph, the 12th child, possessed a typical inventor's temperament -- a maverick and dreamer, and impractical in terms of business and personal affairs. Etienne had a much more even and businesslike temperament than Joseph. As the 15th child he was sent to Paris to train as an architect. However, after the sudden and unexpected death of Raymond in 1772, he was recalled to Annonay to run the family business. In the subsequent 10 years, Etienne applied his talent for technical innovation to the family business; papermaking was a high-tech industry in the 18th century. He succeeded in incorporating the latest Dutch innovations of the day into the family mills. His work led to recognition by the government of France as well as the awarding of a government grant to establish the Montgolfier factory as a model for other French papermakers.


Initial experiments

Of the two brothers, it was Joseph who first contemplated building "machines". Gillispie puts it as early as 1777 when Joseph observed laundry drying over a fire incidentally form pockets that billowed upwards. Joseph made his first definitive experiments in November of 1782 while living in Avignon. He reported, some years later, that he was watching a fire one evening while contemplating one of the great military issues of the day -- an assault on the fortress of Gibraltar, which had proved impregnable by both sea and land. Joseph mused on the possibility of an air assault using troops lifted by the same force that was lifting the embers from the fire. He believed that contained within the smoke was a special gas, which he called 'Montgolfier Gas', with a special property he called 'levity'.

As a result of these musings, Joseph set about building a box-like chamber 1x1x1,3m (3 ft by 3 ft by 4 ft) out of very thin wood and covering the sides and top with lightweight taffeta cloth.

 Under the bottom of the box he crumpled and lit some paper. The contraption quickly lifted off its stand and collided with the ceiling. Joseph then recruited his brother to balloon building by writing the prophetic words: "Get in a supply of taffeta and of cordage, quickly, and you will see one of the most astonishing sights in the world."

The two brothers then set about building a contraption 3 times larger in scale (27 times larger in volume). The lifting force was so great that they lost control of their craft on its very first test flight on 14 December 1782. The device floated nearly 2 kilometres (about 1.2 mi). It was destroyed after landing by the "indiscretion" of passersby.


Public demonstrations

First public demonstration in Annonay, 1783-06-04.The brothers decided to make a public demonstration of a balloon in order to establish their claim to its invention. They constructed a globe-shaped balloon of sackcloth with three thin layers of paper inside. The envelope could contain nearly 790 m³ (28,000 cubic feet) of air and weighed 225 kg (500 lb). It was constructed of four pieces (the dome and three lateral bands), and held together by 1,800 buttons. A reinforcing "fish net" of cord covered the outside of the envelope.

On 4 June 1783, they flew this craft as their first public demonstration at Annonay in front of a group of dignitaries from the Etats particulars. Its flight covered 2 km (1.2 mi), lasted 10 minutes, and had an estimated altitude of 1.600 - 2.000m (5,200 - 6,600 ft). Word of their success quickly reached Paris. Etienne went to the capital to make further demonstrations and to solidify the brothers' claim to the invention of flight. Joseph, given his unkempt appearance and shyness, remained with the family. Etienne was the epithome of sober virtues ... modest in clothes and manner... He was dressed stylishly in black.


A model of the Montgolfier brothers balloon at the London Science MuseumIn collaboration with the successful manufacturer, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, Etienne constructed a 37,500 cubic foot envelope of taffeta coated with a varnish of alum.

 The balloon was sky blue and with golden flourishes, signs of the zodiac, suns. The design was the influence of Réveillon, a wallpaper maker. The next test was on the 11th of September from the parc la Folie Titon, close to the house of Réveillon. There was some concern about the effects of flight into the upper atmosphere on living creatures. The king proposed to launch two criminals, but it is most likely that the inventors decided to send animals aloft first.

On 19 September 1783 the Aerostat Réveillon was flown with the first living beings in a basket attached to the balloon: a sheep, called Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. The sheep was believed to have a reasonable approximation of human physiology. The duck was expected to be unharmed by being lifted aloft. It was included as a control for effects created by the aircraft rather than the altitude. The rooster was included as a further control as it was a bird that did not fly at high altitudes. This demonstration was performed before a huge crowd at the royal palace in Versailles, before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. The flight lasted approximately eight minutes, covered two miles, and obtained an altitude of about 1500 feet. The craft landed safely after flying.


Human flight

With the successful demonstration at Versailles, and again in collaboration with Réveillon, Etienne started construction of a 60,000 cubic foot balloon for the purpose of making flights with humans. The craft was 75 feet tall and 46 feet in diameter. The balloon was tested in tethered flights on 15 October by Pilâtre de Rozier, a twenty-six-year-old physician, who offered his services. On the 17 October the experiment was repeated before a group of scientists and 19 October Rozier and André Giroud de Villette, a wallpaper manufacturer from Madrid, reached 324 feet within 15 seconds along retaining ropes.

On 21 November the first free flight by humans was made by Pilâtre, together with an army officer, the marquis d'Arlandes. The flight began from the grounds of the Château de la Muette (close to the Bois de Boulogne (park)) in the western outskirts of Paris. They flew aloft about 3,000 feet above Paris for a distance of nine kilometres. After 25 minutes the machine landed between the windmills, outside the city ramparts, on the Butte-aux-Cailles. Enough fuel remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far. However, burning embers from the fire were scorching the balloon fabric and had to be daubed out with sponges. As it appeared it could destroy the balloon, Pilâtre took off his coat to stop the fire.

The early flights made a sensation. Numerous engravings commemorated the events. Chairs were designed with balloon backs, and mantel clocks were produced in enamel and gilt-bronze replicas set with a dial in the balloon. One could buy crockery decorated with naive pictures of balloons.

Sources: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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