France, 1783

Brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier were in the paper manufacturing business. When they watched paper burn they noticed that little pieces of unburnt paper and ashes would rise into the air. They were very fascinated by this phenomenon and decided if they could somehow capture this air man would be able to use it to fly.

In September of 1783 the brothers built a balloon, Aerostat Reveillon, and placed in the wicker basket a sheep named Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. The balloon flew for approximately eight minutes and covered two miles gaining an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet before it landed safely.


The first manned flight

In November of 1783 the Montgolfier brothers set their sight for the first manned hot air balloon flight. King Louis XVI had decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots but Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Mqrquis Fracois d’Arlandes successfully petitioned for the honour. The pair flew for around 23 minutes and laded safely 10 miles away.

The Montgolfier brothers actually knew very little about why their balloons flew. They believed that the balloon was filled with a gas they called “Montgolfier gas” that had a special property they called “levity.” They did not even associate heated air with Montgolfier gas—they believed that the levity was contained in the smoke.

After numerous flights with their hot air balloons belching thick smoke the superstitious peasants of the area, believing the balloon to be a monster that was attacking them from the sky, proceeded to rip it the balloons when they landed with scythes and pitchforks.

To appease the marauding peasants the balloon pilots produced bottles of champagne to toast the flight and convince the peasants that every thing was OK, trading glasses of champagne for pitchforks. This tradition has survived today with the customary bottle of champagne opened upon landing the balloon.



Check out our list of Balloonist’s Essential Equipment here.