In the past hundred years, humankind has conceived of many different ways to fly. But when the year 1783 began, people couldn't fly — and weren't even sure they would be able to breathe up there if they did. The first hot air balloon flight changed all that on September 19th, and it happened in France. Here's a brief history of hot air balloons.

It began in a paper company

Five years before the French Revolution, Parisian brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier made paper for a living. As the story goes, they noticed one day that paper bags were being carried into the air by drafts of hot air. That gave them and idea, and they began experimenting with paper, and then silk, and invented the first hot air balloon.

King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

The first recorded passenger balloon flight proved quite the spectacle. The Montgolfier brothers brought their invention to the king, who invited them to launch their hot air balloon before the public, from his palace at Versailles. An estimated 130,000 were in attendance, including King Louis XVI himself, and Marie Antoinette.

A duck, a sheep, and a rooster

Since nobody could be certain humans would be able to survive up in the sky, there were scientific discussions on how to find out. The king suggested risking the lives of a few prisoners, but cooler heads prevailed, and they enlisted an even motlier crew of original passengers instead: A duck, a sheep, and a rooster. They knew the duck would survive, but weren't so sure about the other two. The first occupied hot air balloon flight lasted eight minutes, landing in the woods near the palace, and all aboard were deemed fine — at least til dinner time.

A school teacher turned pilot

Reasonably assured people could survive hot air balloon rides, the Montgolfiers looked for a man to send up. They found chemistry and physics teacher Pilâtre de Rozier, and on October 15th, he rose high above the ground on a long tether for four minutes. On November 21, he tried again, joined by French military officer Marquis d'Arlandes, and the two covered five miles over 25 untethered minutes, flying from central Paris to the suburbs. 

Impressing Ben Franklin

That first human flight might not have been as pretty as modern day hot air balloon rides in California, but a certain founder of the newly established United States of America was impressed. Benjamin Franklin was on hand to witness men fly for the first time, and when he wrote about it later, sounded just a bit jealous he didn't think of it first. 

New heights and distances

In the years since that first flight, planes, helicopters, and rockets have made air travel much more efficient. But dedicated enthusiasts, enamored by the unparalleled elegance of hot air balloon flight, have pushed the limits of the medium, pursuing greater heights and crossing oceans. Devotees even gather annually for major hot air balloon festivals around the world.

Hot Air Balloon Rides in California

There aren't any kings, or historic Americans witnessing the Del Mar hot air balloon tours offered by Compass Balloons, but that doesn't make them any less thrilling. They make for great dates, and unique birthday gifts. Sheep, rooster, and duck not included. Contact us or give us a call at (760) 354-8821 to set up a hot air balloon tour with Compass Balloons.