The Quick History of Hot Air Balloons

The quick, bite-sized history of hot air balloons: French brothers watched smoke, copied, flew, then gas balloons took over, but hot air balloons came back, and here we are today, flying above your house.

A fancy and old hot air balloon, but most likely, not the first balloon.

But if you like pictures, names, and dates, here’s the slightly longer, more colorful version.

There are disputes over who was the very first to create and use hot air balloons, but generally, the credit is given to the French Montgolfier brothers. They were paper manufacturers in Alchemy, France, and being the observant people they were, noticed that burnt paper and ashes would float with the smoke above the fire. Therefore, obviously, smoke = magical flying substance.

The first flight happened on June 4th, 1783, and lasted for approximately eight minutes before local peasants destroyed it, believing that it was the moon falling from the sky.

The first flight with, *ahem*, passengers occurred on September 19, 1783. Who were the first skyward adventurers? Well, a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. Again, it was an eight minute flight, but this time, without the disastrous attack that happened previously. When the brothers realized that this thing of theirs actually worked, they approached King Louis XVI to see if he would witness the flight of their invention, except with actual human passengers instead of the esteemed barnyard animals.

King Louis XVI agreed and so he and Benjamin Franklin watched the first manned hot air balloon flight on September 19, 1783. It was a successful flight that lasted for about 25 minutes. Again, the farmers raced toward the strange object, pitchforks raised in defense, but the pilots offered champagne to them, proving that they were indeed Frenchmen and not eight-legged, octopus-headed Martians. That’s why, even today, hot air balloon pilots will sometimes have champagne with them.

This is a gas balloon. Instead of flying off of heat like a hot air balloon, it flies off of a gas that is lighter than air like helium or hydrogen.

But their victory was short-lived. Just a few days later, a gas balloon was launched and successfully flown by professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers. It turns out, gas ballooning was better. The fires on hot air ballooning were hard to maintain without our modern equipment and the hot air balloon faded out as the gas balloon rose to the forefront. This kept ballooning to the more elite of society because of how much the gas cost. For today’s gas balloons, it costs about $12,000 for one fill-up. Earlier, it cost about $3,000–just for one flight.

However, in October 1955, Ed Yost, working under a military contract, developed the modern, propane-burning hot air balloon. To fly a hot air balloon today costs about $100 to fill up the 40-gallon tanks. Because of that, mixed with the beautiful colors and natural awe that surrounds ballooning, the sport has taken off. People such as Ed Yost, Bruce Comstock, and Don Cameron have built the community up, making the sport safer and more popular.

And here we are today, flying above your house.

Dozens of balloons taking off from festival, showing just how many people have gotten involved with it.

2 thoughts on “The Quick History of Hot Air Balloons

  1. Wow! These people were dedicated! Good thing they never gave up… I keep finding myself wondering what the roosters and chickens thought as experimental flight attendants. This post is so informative and educational. I never would’ve wondered on my own about all the history!


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