Biography of French Balloonist Jean Pierre Blanchard Part 2

About the pioneer in the field of ballooning Jean Pierre Blanchard, biography and history of the French flyer.




On Jan. 7, 1785, Blanchard's inflated balloon was transported to Dover Cliff for launching. At the last minute, Blanchard tried one last trick. He announced that the balloon was overweight and Jeffries could not come. Calling the short, thin Blanchard a "petulant little fellow ... physically well suited for vaporish regions," Jeffries searched Blanchard and discovered that he was wearing a lead belt. After Blanchard discarded the belt, both men climbed into the balloon's carriage and ascended. A weak wind blew them slowly southeast toward France, but 8 mi. out over the Channel the balloon began to descend. Blanchard and Jeffries jettisoned the ballast, but they continued to sink. The two men argued about what should be thrown overboard until the balloon carriage bounced on the waters. Then both men--neither of whom could swim--desperately tossed cargo over the side.

Sighting the French coast, Jeffries climbed into the rigging, while Blanchard screamed at him to come down because they were falling again. Skimming 5 ft. over the water, they threw ropes, anchors, seats, scientific instruments, and decorations overboard. When the balloon still failed to rise, Blanchard stripped to his under-wear and tossed away his clothes. At first Jeffries refused to follow suit, saying he would rather drown than face the French in the nude. As they came nearer to the waves, Jeffries overcame his modesty and flung his clothing overboard. Climbing into the rigging, Jeffries suggested that they discharge the weight in their bladders. Blanchard thought it an excellent idea, and both urinated into the English Channel.

Just then, as they approached the French coast near Calais, a warm air current lifted the balloon, and they crossed into France, becoming the first men to fly the Channel. Immediately, they were beset with another problem. They were climbing skyward and had thrown their landing ropes and anchors away. Flying 12 mi. inland over the Guines Forest, Jeffries slowed the balloon by grabbing hold of treetops. When they floated over a clearing, Blanchard released the gas from the balloon, which sank safely to the ground. After they were given clothes, the aeronauts arrived in Calais by carriage and were greeted by cheering crowds. Although they had jettisoned their mail bag, Jeffries had stuffed one letter addressed to Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's grandson, into his underwear. This was the first airmail letter.

King Louis XVI of France rewarded Blanchard with $12,000 and a lifetime pension; Jeffries, who had paid for everything, received nothing. Blanchard returned to England and started a business teaching ballooning and giving stunt shows. He promoted an attraction featuring animals parachuting from balloons but had to cancel it after a dog and a sheep were parachuted to their deaths. Next, he advertised that a man would jump from a balloon and play a violin while parachuting down. When the man leaped from an altitude of only 10 ft. and played only several notes, the spectators, who had paid dearly for their tickets, rioted and destroyed Blanchard's establishment.

Blanchard left England and toured Europe, giving aeronautic demonstrations. In 1793, in Philadelphia, Blanchard made the first balloon ascent in the Western Hemisphere. In 1808, in The Hague, Blanchard suffered a heart attack during his 60th flight. He managed to land but died shortly thereafter in Paris.

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