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Joseph Michel Montgolfier

(1740—1810) and Jacques Étienne, French inventors and pioneers in hot-air ballooning


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(1740–1810) French balloonist

Etienne and Michel Montgolfier, the sons of a paper manufacturer from Vidalon-les-Annonay, Lyons, engaged themselves in various enterprises. Michel founded his own paper factory in 1771, while Etienne practiced as an architect until 1782 when called upon to run the family factory at Vidalon. In later life Michel abandoned business and was appointed in 1800 to the faculty of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.

Like many before, the brothers had noticed how pieces of paper thrown into the fire would often rise aloft in a column of hot air. They were interested enough to see whether paper bags filled with hot smoke would rise. Satisfied with their small-scale experiments they became convinced that something much larger was viable. On June 4 1783 they gave the first public demonstration of their work at Annonay. The balloon was made of linen and lined with paper, measured 36 feet across, and weighed 500 pounds. Once inflated over a fire burning chopped straw, the balloon ascended to a height of 6000 feet before coming down ten minutes later, a mile and a half away. News quickly spread throughout France. Called to Versailles they demonstrated their balloon, this time carrying a sheep, a cock, and a duck, before Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The balloon landed two miles away in a wood with the animals none the worse for their journey.

The first manned flight was made by François de Rozier in Paris in October 1783. Of the brothers, only Michel flew in the balloon, making an ascent of 3000 feet with seven other people in 1784.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.


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