'The Destruction of Charles's Balloon', 1783.
2 9 c m
actual image size: 32cm x 21cm

'The Destruction of Charles's Balloon', 1783.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library


Steel engraving. After hearing of the Montgolfier brothers' succes, Jacques Charles (1746-1823), a French profesor of physics, joined forces with two local craftsmen, Jean and Noel Robert, to produce a superior balloon. The balloon they constructed (called 'The Globe') was just 12 feet in diameter. It was made of silk with an impermeable rubberised coating, intended to contain the lifting gas hydrogen. Upon its release, the balloon rose 3000 feet in the air before falling to the ground near Gonese 15 miles (24 km) away. A small crowd gathered around, prevented from approaching the balloon by the smell of the escaping gas. A single shot was then fired at the balloon, whereupon all of the villagers, believing it to be the devil, attacked it with flails and pitchforks and tore it to shreds.

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