Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hot Air Balloon Flights -- the History of Ballooning

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared about the The Stourbridge Lion, America's very first steam locomotive. If you missed that post, you can read it here:

In that post, I asked if anyone had ridden a steam locomotive. How about a hot air balloon?

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The History of Ballooning

This past weekend marked the 42nd anniversary of a hot air balloon festival in Colorado Springs. Every year on Labor Day weekend, dozens of pilots gather in Memorial Park to launch their amazing balloons over the heads of thousands of attendees just as the sun is peeking through the morning clouds and shining on the "purple mountain majesty" mountains to the west. They also do a balloon "glow" at sunset where the balloons remain grounded but inflated and at set times, they all release the liquid propane into the burners and shoot the flames inside, making them "glow." It's quite a sight to see, and my family has made it a tradition to go every year.

This year was no different. Here are just half a dozen photos from what I captured:


After hearing and answering a slew of questions from my children about hot air balloons and how they work, I decided to check out a little bit of history. What I discovered surprised me, since I learned people have been flying in balloons for over 200 years!! Who would have thought that could even be possible?

And Americans were actually late to almost 50 years! The first manned balloon ride was in Paris in 1783, almost half a century before the famed Charles Durant. A year later, in 1784, a group crossed the English Channel.

The first balloon flight in America was in 1793, observed by a rather substantial crowd which included President Washington. However, the aeronaut was Frenchman Jean Pierre Francois Blanchard. Therefore, when Durant took off in 1830, he was the first American. Ballooning still seemed new and exciting in the United States, and not many had succeeded. The New York Post wrote:

"The spectacle drew many persons to the Battery, which was literally covered with an immense multitude of every age, sex, and color, whose faces were all turned upward. It is estimated that upwards of 20,000 persons were collected to see a man risk his neck for their amusement and for their money."

Amazing isn't it, how many people will pay a lot of money to watch someone else attempt death-defying feats?

For this particular showcase, Durant wore a top hat and tails. That attire alone would draw a crowd, but it also lent a certain air of sophistication to his imminent journey and flight. Once in the air, he was aloft for about three hours, and he landed in a field in New Jersey, surprising the farmer named Johnson who owned the land. Three years later, in May 1833, Durant published a letter in the Journal of Commerce called "A New York Balloon Ascension." I just love the eloquence showcased here in his descriptive recounting of the experience:

"Here burst upon my sight one of the most imposing views I have ever beheld. Call it majestic, splendid, or sublime — invoke a Shakespeare's mind to describe, or a painter's to portray it — even thought must fail to conceive the rich downy softness and white fleecy accumulation of clouds piled in waves as far as the eye could reach, covering the earth, and closing to my sight the land, water, and everything, animate or inanimate, that I had so long and often viewed with delight. Above me nothing but a clear, cerulean expanse — the golden sun-beams spreading over the vast ocean of clouds, and extending through immensity of space where sight is bounded, and from whence even thought returns, unable to traverse the confines of the vast field beyond."

Now, doesn't that just make you want to find someone who owns a hot air balloon and beg them for a ride? I know my children beg me every year to ride in one, and so far, I have been successful in deterring them. It's an expensive prospect! Nearly $250 per person! After chatting with some friends at the balloon festival this past weekend, though, I think I might be able to at least get them into the basket of a balloon next year so they can take a picture. Between now and then, we'll see if I can manage an actual flight. Personally, I'd like to take one first -- one that ends with a glass of wine to toast the successful adventure. *winks*

The commercial airlines, particularly since the security checks became intrusive, have since taken some of the romance out of flying, but there is still a definite fascination which exists in many hearts and minds about the idea of soaring through the sky, high above the ground below, free as a bird and floating on the wind. Something about freedom, wouldn't you agree?

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* Have you ever flown in a hot air balloon or stood inside the basket?

* Is there a hot air balloon festival near you, or have you attended one at any point in your life?

* If you could take a hot air balloon ride anywhere you wanted, where would you go?

* What did you like most about today's post?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out. She is also an educational consultant with Usborne Books.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs: Nova, a Shiba-Inu/Chihuahua mix and Nugget a Corgi/Chihuahua mix, in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn.


  1. We haven't gone to any of the balloon festivals here in Maine since we moved here. Back in Vermont when the kids were small, we would go to the local yearly event. That balloon glow sounds spectacular and is something I've never seen.

    1. I'm thinking it's time you make a plan to attend one again. New state, new experiences, new memories. :) As for the glow, it is definitely a sight to see, and one of my favorites next to the lake touch-downs in the morning.

  2. Oh, wow! I loved this. Ever since I saw AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, I've been fascinated by hot air balloons. If I had a bucket list, a hot air balloon ride would be on it and I would ride across the US somewhere, perhaps over the Grand Canyon. I love seeing the pictures of all the different designs used for the balloon. Thanks for the interesting post.

    1. Oooh, the Grand Canyon! Now THAT would be an amazing balloon adventure. We just recently visited there, and although the weather might be a bit troublesome for a hot air balloon, it would certainly make for an astounding view. If you want to see more creative designs for the balloons, visit my profile on Facebook and the photo albums I've created with many more photos.