First Aerial View of Portsmouth in 1796
  • Print
Written by Archive Presents
Historic Portsmouth #328  

On the chilly afternoon of February 18, 1796 a large crowd of Portsmouth spectators gathered near the Assembly House on Vaughan Street. They came to see French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard’s “Aerostatic Experiment.”  (Continued below)



His balloon was made from 150 yards of silk taffeta and inflated to a height of 23 feet and a diameter of 17. Lifted by a mysterious “aerial fluid” the balloon rose above the Portsmouth rooftops, then a wicker basket carrying its passengers broke free and sailed smoothly back to earth under a large parachute. Blanchard, who had flown across the English Channel, held the world’s air flight record of 300 miles before he made his American tour. But he was not inside the balloon that rose above Portsmouth. The passengers on that trip were local residents described only as “several living quadrupeds.” The advertising image of the balloon (seen here) that appeared in the NH Gazette clearly shows a dog, and perhaps a cat, pig, or goat. The Gazette reported that the attending crowd “appeared very well satisfied at this sight, the first of its kind ever seen in the State.” Blanchard died in the Netherlands in 1809 due to injuries suffered in a 50-foot fall from one of his balloons following a mid-air heart attack. (Images courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum and Wikimedia)