#FlightyFridays — Linda Hall Library Talk: "Whims of the Wind: The Balloon's Ascent, Decline, and Resurrection in France"

For today’s #FlightyFridays I figured I’d share a broader view of my research. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to present my work at the Linda Hall Library, a wonderful institution in Kansas City for anyone interested in the study of science, technology, and engineering (its “collection encompasses more than half a million monograph volumes and more than 48,000 journal titles”). I was a fellow there for three months, and came across some exciting finds in their Rare Books Collection, some of which are showcased in the presentation.

So, if you’re interested in understanding how the balloon went from being this exciting innovation in the late eighteenth century, to quickly becoming obsolete in the early nineteenth century, only to then be rediscovered as modern as the twentieth century approached, this is just the thing for you!

The video is also available in the Linda Hall Library’s Facebook Page.

#FlightyFridays—Lindbergh's Flight, or When All of Paris's Police Force Wasn't Enough to Control the Crowds

The Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the Milestones of Flight Hall at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Photo by Patrick Luiz Sullivan De Oliveira).

Charles Lindbergh's 1927 flight aboard the Spirit of St. Louis from Long Island to Paris stands as one of the most celebrated events in the history of flight. Historians have tackled it extensively, including a wonderful study by Thomas Kessner, The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of American Aviation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), which addresses the epic flight itself and offers a cultural portrait of the era that created "Lucky Lindy's" celebrity.

But it can be easy sometimes to lose sight of how momentous certain events in history were to those who experienced them. Lindbergh's flight represented more than just a triumph of human ingenuity; it united France and the United States—the "Sister Republics"—in a much-needed moment of cosmopolitan celebration less than a decade after the carnage in Europe. The flight itself was a way to bolster Franco-American relations. It also acknowledged the central role France (and particularly Paris) played in aeronautical culture at the time.

 

Thérèse Bonney, "Arrivée au Bourget de Charles Lindbergh après sa traversée de l'Atlantique," 21 May 1927 (Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris).

While working in the Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris (Paris's police archives), I came across a source that vividly illustrates the exhilarating moments leading up to Lindbergh's arrival at Le Bourget. The two-page document is a report from the Director of Police to the Prefect two days after Lindbergh’s arrival describing the escalating need for police presence as crowds waiting for him to land grew bigger and bigger. It is evidence of just how unprepared the police were for such craziness. Aesthetically, it is not a very attractive document (although I do find the summary statements on the left amusing in their simplicity given the circumstances).

As you can read in the transcription I offer below the images of the report, authorities severely underestimated the crowds who would come to greet Lindbergh. At first, 130 guards and officers were dispatched after the Le Bourget administration requested help—by the end of the day, all of Paris's available police force had been assigned to control the crowds and traffic associated with Lindbergh's arrival. Luckily, only about a dozen people seemed to have gotten injured during the commotion, including seven people who hurt themselves after the veranda they scaled at Le Bourget collapsed. As Xavier Guichard, the Director of the Police, put it, "we have never seen a crowd gather this fast before and whose enthusiasm knew no bounds."


Page one of the 23 May 1927 Police Report concerning Charles Lindbergh's arrival in Paris after his transatlantic flight (Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris).

Page two of the 23 May 1927 Police Report concerning Charles Lindbergh's arrival in Paris after his transatlantic flight (Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris).


POLICE PREFECTURE

Municipal Police Directorship

NOTE ON LENDBERG'S [sic] ARRIVAL

23 May 1927

 

 

 

From the Director of the Municipal Police to Monsieur the Prefect of Police

The Le Bourget aviation camp responds in part to military authority and, in part, to civil management.

 

Policing presence requested by Le Bourget:

 

 

 

Police presence doubled by the Municipal Police: 

 

 

 

 

[Police presence] quadrupled upon of arrival:

 

 

All available men employed: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Injured:

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the military side, policing is usually provided by military authority itself — on the other side, policing is only provided upon request by civil management and within the limits it sets, since in that case we find ourselves within a facility in which entry is only allowed upon request.

On Saturday, the 21, Le Bourget’s civilian management requested a police presence of 100 men for the evening in anticipation of the public that might come wait for the aviator LINDBERGH.

The public was only allowed in with tickets issued issued by the management.

The municipal police sent 130 guards and officers.

At about 7 pm, fearing that too many tickets had been issued and considering that Lindbergh’s arrival might happen during the night, the Municipal Police was compelled to send another 60 men without having been requested. With that, the service reached about 200 men.

Once Lindbergh was reported to have reached France, a very important police presence was established on the road in order to control traffic. Yet the number of cars that had made their way to Le Bourget made any amount of police presence insufficient; it was an incessant flow of  bumper-to-bumper cars clogging traffic, none of them wanting to go beyond Le Bourget and those arriving preventing others from passing. Thus, we should have anticipated an alternative route for official cars rather than the usual one on which they circulated.

In the evening, as soon as the arrival at Le Bourget was confirmed, police presence was increased by a new dispatch of 210 men, including 100 foot guards and 110 guards and officers plus 15 infantrymen from the 34th Aviation Division, made available by the officer-in-charge. 

Not all of these units were employed at the interior of the Le Bourget field. Many were employed outside to prevent the public from entering, the Chief of Police having judged it necessary to close the doors because of the large number of guests who came and whose presence in the grounds was now becoming dangerous.

A stronger police presence would only have been possible if it had been requested earlier in advance, seeing that all peacekeepers available in Paris were deployed either to Le Bourget, the road, the Porte de La Villette where, without them, traffic would have become impossible, and, finally, in Paris, in particular in front of the “Matin” and the Place de l’Opéra where the electrified advertisements had drawn a large crowd.

 At around 10 pm, 700 men were engaged at these various policing services.

 It must be recognized that we have never seen a crowd gather this fast before and whose enthusiasm knew no bounds.

In a case like this, the institution concerned, in this case Le Bourget, would need to request in advance forces appropriate to the circumstances and that would, moreover, require support from the troops.

What seems to have especially moved public opinion is the news of 10 injured taken to the hospital. Furthermore, a rumor spread this afternoon that one of these injured had died and that another was in a coma.

No injuries were reported to the police but, upon inspection, 7 people were treated at the ambulance inside Le Bourget. Of these 7 people, three were taken to the St. Louis Hospital; one left the hospital the same night and two are still in treatment: one for a wrist wound and the the other for a fractured leg. These spectateurs had foolishly scaled onto a veranda that broke under their weight.

None of the patients’ lives are at risk. 

The Director of the Municipal Police

[Xavier] GUICHARD

#FlightyFridays — "The Political Balloon"

The initial mass enthusiasm for balloons following their invention in 1783 soon gave way to ironic skepticism. After all, critics said, what was the point of rising up into the air if you had no control over the apparatus?

As such, balloons became powerful images for satires. Not only did their mechanics offer moralizing lessons ("what goes up must come down," for instance), but the technology itself started to be associated with swindlers and hustlers who would advertise a magnificent ascent that would then barely lift off—frustrating paying spectators who would sometimes break out in riots. England, in particular, was much more skeptical of the balloon than France, and its thriving industry of satirical prints did not lose a beat.

Anonymous, "The Political Balloon; or, The Fall of the East India Stock," 4 December 1783 (Huntington Library).

Titled "The Political Balloon; or, The Fall of the East India Stock," this print came out in late 1783 (just a few months after the balloon's invention). In 1783, the East India Company (a British joint-stock company founded in 1600 to trade in the East), was scarred by corruption scandals and in dire financial straits. That same year, Charles James Fox (a Whig politician and opponent of King George III) introduced a bill to bring the East India Company (EIC) under more direct supervision of the Parliament. The bill passed in the Commons, but due to pressure from King George III, it failed to get through the House of Lords.

"The Political Balloon" depicts Fox sitting on top of a balloon in the shape of the Earth, with the Indian Ocean facing the observer (one can also see the labels "Madras" and "Gold Mines"). Holding a "Bill to Reform India Affairs," Fox glibly states:

"Thanks to my Auspicious Stars, for now I see the Gold & Silver mines before me; 'tis this I am Soaring for." 

Below the East India balloon we see three men falling as coins pour out of their pockets. The one one the left seems to represent an EIC director, the one in the middle Warren Hastings (the Governor-General of Bengal), and the one on the right an EIC shareholder. From left to right, their speech bubbles read:

"If the Nation knew his Treacherous heart as well as me, the directors woud be continued."
"What my Governorship gone 'ere I had made or unmade one Nabob? Oh perdition Seize that wiley Fox."
"Must I forever be hurl'd  from such pretty pickings? wou'd I cou'd grapple in my fall the author of it." 

The satire thus uses the image of an ascending balloon to attack both Fox and those he was challenging within the EIC, more than implying that all of them were engaged in a speculative battle over the company for personal profits.

The scenario would have likely prompted an informed observer to think of the South Sea Bubble. Established in 1711 as a joint-stock company like the EIC, the South Sea Company was granted a monopoly over trade in South America in return for underwriting the British debt that had grown significantly because of a series of wars. Because of Iberian control of South America, the South Sea Company's trade in the region was mediocre at best, but to inflate stocks its directors spread rumors of riches struck by the company in the region. In January 1720, South Sea Company stock stood at £128. As the joint-stock company and government debt became more and more intertwined, and as the rumors of riches in the South Atlantic proliferated, the stock surged, reaching £1,050 by the end of June. But in July investors started to dump the stock, leading to a massive sell-off. The bubble had burst, and by September, the company's stock price stood at a mere £175. It was a financial event with global repercussions, not unlike the subprime mortgage crisis that shook the global economy a few years ago.

As mentioned, because of how the balloon worked (it had to be inflated to ascend, but as it lost gas would have to fall back to the ground), and because there were also many instances of profiteers trying to make a quick buck through balloon ascents, the technology became an especially apt metaphor to satirize financial speculation schemes. "The Political Balloon; or, The Fall of the East India Stock" was just one of many satires that came out in the late eighteenth century doing just that. 

#FlightyFridays — Henri Lachambre, Balloon Manufacturer

Manufacture d'aérostats de Vaugirard, fondée en 1875 (Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris).

Henri Lachambre was perhaps the most reputable balloon manufacturer at turn of the century. From his atelier in Vaugirard (a neighborhood in the outskirts of nineteenth-century Paris) he built balloons for individuals and governments all over the world. Among his customers were the United States Army Signal Corps, the Swede S.A. André (who perished in an ill-fated balloon expedition to the North Pole in 1897), and the Brazilian aeronaut Alberto Santos-Dumont (discussed in the previous #FlightyFridays).

Like most people involved in the business of aeronautics at the time, Lachambre was a passeur who shifted between the worlds of "serious science" and of "frivolous amusement"—something expressed in the whimsical cover to his sales catalog. At the center, donning Lacahmbre's name, we have a standard balloon that scientific-minded aeronauts used to explore the upper reaches of the atmosphere and wealthy Aéro-Club de France members used to make their fashionable ascents. Surrounding that balloon are numerous humorous balloons in the shape of elephants, jockeys, pierrots, devils, and more—the kind of stuff we might see at at the Thanksgiving Macy's Parade, but smaller. In short, whether you were a wealthy aristocrat looking for a new sport, an aspiring man of science with a sense for adventure, or someone wanting to add some spice to your local quartier party, you could find something in Lachambre's catalog.

#FlightyFridays – The Celebrity of Alberto Santos-Dumont

This Friday, prompted by Alberto Santos-Dumont's birthday, I decided to start sharing some of my research on Twitter through a new feature: #FlightyFridays. The gist is that I'd offer readers some interesting images with some short commentary to contextualize what they're seeing. I've decided to also expand #FlightyFridays into a blog, which I hope will serve as a more permanent record. Remember, if you'd like to see a larger version of the image, just click on it! 

Alberto Santos-Dumont was born on July 20, 1873, in Brazil. Although most Brazilians would disagree, Santos-Dumont did not invent the airplane. Nor was he the first to fly one. Where Santos-Dumont did excel was in lighter-than-air flight. His Parisian ascents aboard balloons and dirigibles were critical in popularizing the idea of a world permeated by flight in a time where people were still very skeptical of its possibility.

La Vie au grand air, 19 June 1903 (Gallica, BNF).

"Le petit Santos," as Parisians affectionately called him, skillfully worked with the press to become the first global aeronaut celebrity. Huge crowds gathered to watch his flights, and the mass illustrated, which was just coming to its own, eagerly depicted these events on its pages. The cover of the sports periodical La Vie au grand air shows a crowd gathering around Santos-Dumont after he landed on of his dirigibles in Longchamp.

 

La Vie au grand air, 8 December, 1901 (Gallica, BNF).

Santos-Dumont's fame was such that during a 1901 toy contest, the most popular toys were based on his dirigibles. La Vie au grand air provided its readers with a photo of the numerous toys at display in the 1901 Concours Lepine's "Santos-Dumont corner."

Author’s collection.

Santos-Dumont's aircrafts and image also stamped all types of advertisements, like this Will’s Cigarettes trading card, which I snagged at a marché aux puces in Paris. As such, the commodification of Santos-Dumont anticipated Lindbergh Fever by a couple of decades, and set the tone for the ways in which aviators would be made into celebrities in the following years.

Santos-Dumont's fame reached its peak in late 1901, when he won the Deutsch Prize offered to the first person to take off from the Aéro-Club de France's park in Saint-Cloud, circle around the Eiffel Tower, and return within a strict time limit. There was controversy as to whether he succeeded, but popular pressure forced the Aéro-Club to grant him the prize. The feat not only made Santos-Dumont "the hero of the hour," it also helped solidify Paris's status as the global capital of aeronautics. After all, the event also made the connection between aviation and the Eiffel Tower real (it is worth noting that the tower had been pitched as a kind of aeronautical laboratory when it was proposed in the late 1880s). Photos of Santos-Dumont going around the Eiffel Tower circulated the world, and one was even used by Eiffel in a book he published to defend the tower’s utility

In short, the way the press covered Santos-Dumont's feats helped crystalize Paris's global image as a spectacular center of technological cosmopolitanism—as the "capital of modernity." This illustration from the New York Herald, a newspaper that followed Santos-Dumont closely and helped spread his fame in the United States and amongst elites in Europe, conveys this in a wonderful fashion.

New York Herald, 24 June 1900 (Firestone Library, Princeton University).