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The De Montgolfiers

Joseph and Etienne

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Immortal French Aero Pioneers

Born Annonay, France

August 26, 1740—June 26, 1810

January 6, 1745—August 2, 1799


The Brothers De Montgolfier were trained in chemistry, physics, and architecture, and became principal directors of the family paper industry. Their genius produced a number of innovative manufacturing techniques which commanded wide notice in that industry.

Joseph commenced active aeronautical experiments in 1771, and was later joined by Etienne. Their initial experiments involved inflammable gas, later called hydrogen. After observing that the products of combustion tended to rise, they produced a successful small silk balloon of four cubic feet. On June 5,1783 they launched a 309 foot diameter linen and paper spherical balloon, open at the bottom to receive heat from a fire on the ground. The balloon rose to a height of 6000 feet and was aloft for ten minutes.

On September 19, of that year, from the palace grounds at Versailles, the brothers launched the first living creatures - a duck, a sheep, and a rooster - on a successful eight minute two-mile flight in a hot air balloon. This was followed shortly by a larger 79,000 cubic foot capacity balloon carrying its own hot air source as well as a circular gallery for passengers. Following a rigid tethered-test program they launched this vehicle on its first manned free flight of 25 minutes duration over Paris. The date was November 21,1783. Although denied the privilege of being passengers on this historic first flight of man, it was their genius and spirit which launched mankind on its conquest of the air.

Invested 1983 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984

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Updated: March 12, 2004