Montgolfier brothers- the inventors of the hot-air balloon

 
Montgolfier brothers
 
 
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Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were French brothers who developed the first hot-air balloon.

They created the basic design of their hot air balloon “Globe aérostatique”, which was further improved and later served as an instrument for exploration of the upper atmosphere.

Joseph-Michel Montgolfier
Joseph-Michel Montgolfier

 

Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier
Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier

 

The hot air balloon of the Montgolfier brothers
The hot air balloon of the Montgolfier brothers

The brothers were born in a family of paper manufacturers in Annonay, France. The family had 16 children of whom Joseph was the 12th and Etienne the 15th. Their oldest brother Raymond was the successor of the family business. Etienne was sent to Paris to study architecture but returned home in 1772 after the sudden death of his brother Raymond.

Paper making was a high-tech industry in the 18th century so when Etienne came back in his father’s workshop, his acquired technical skills were more than welcomed. He took over the business and managed to imply the latest Dutch novelties into the family mills.

Joseph was also working in the family business. In 1782 he created a very thin wooden box and covered its sides and top with lightweight taffeta cloth. At its bottom, he lit a paper. The wooden box then lifted up to the ceiling. Amused by his experiment, Joseph wrote a letter to Etienne telling him to repeat that so that he could see the most amazing thing. Together, they built the same model but in a larger size.

Montgolfier's manuscript describing his invention, 1784. Photo credit
Montgolfier’s manuscript describing his invention, 1784. Photo credit

In 1783 they constructed a globe-shaped balloon of sackcloth with three thin layers of paper inside and made their first public demonstration. They filled the balloon with heated air by burning straw and wool under the opening at the bottom of the bag. The balloon rose 3,000 feet above the ground and remained there for 10 minutes before it got back to the ground, a bit further from where it rose.

First public demonstration in Annonay, 4 June 1783
First public demonstration in Annonay, 4th June, 1783

 

The first flights in a balloon
The first flights in a balloon

After the successful performance, the Montgolfiers presented their balloon in Paris and Versailles.

 

They even sent a sheep, a rooster and a duck inside the balloon as passengers. Each time, it was floating for approximately 10 minutes and was grounding back at the launch site.

A 1786 depiction of the Montgolfier brothers' historic balloon with engineering data. Details are available in translation on the image hosting page
A 1786 depiction of the Montgolfier brothers’ historic balloon with engineering data. Details are available in translation on the image hosting page

The same year Etienne collaborated with Jean-Baptiste Reveillon, a wallpaper manufacturer, and together they constructed  a 37,500-cubic-foot envelope of taffeta coated with a varnish of alum.

Reveillon produced a special, colorful wallpaper which was the cover of the balloon.

It was sky blue with golden flourishes, signs of the zodiac and suns.A month later, two of Reveillon’s employees flew as pioneers in a basket attached to the balloon.

Balloon Montgolfier brothers
Balloon Montgolfier brothers

 

 

Monument of the Montgolfier brothers in their hometown, Annonay. Photo credit
Monument of the Montgolfier brothers in their hometown, Annonay. Photo credit

 

A model of the Montgolfier brothers' balloon at the London Science Museum
A model of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon at the London Science Museum

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The Montgolfier Company still exists in Annonay under the name “Montgolfier et Canson” and it produces fine art papers, school drawing papers and digital fine art and photography papers. It purchases in 120 countries.