It’s hard to believe that humans have been flying for well over 100 years. Even when we take into account that the Wright brothers took to the air in 1903, that isn’t even old when compared to the first flights. Before the Wrights there was Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal, pioneering glider inventors; and before them there was Henri Giffard, creator of the first powered flying machine – a steam powered airship.
By the time these photographs of Paris were taken in 1878, it had been 26 years since Henri Giffard’s pioneering powered flight in 1852. Now he dedicated himself to helping the masses take to the air for their first flight aboard his tethered balloon – installed in the courtyard of the Tuileries, Paris. Because unpowered balloons are largely lacking in directional control, we see the area surrounded by tethering devices, large winches and balloon ballast to provide a safe flight over the city and return to the original liftoff location.
What an amazing experience to be had in the days when the steam train was the latest in fast travel and people commonly got around by horse and buggy. Included in the series of photographs from the Library of Congress are aerial views of Paris, with some war-damaged buildings.
The first of its kind: Henri Giffard’s steam powered airship from 1852.