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1793 Two Hundred Years Ago

February 2024
1min read

The First Flight

The first American to make an untethered ascent in a balloon rode with the Frenchman Jean-Pierre-François Blanchard over London, England, in November 1784, but eight years later Blanchard himself became the first man to fly above the American continent, taking off from a prison yard in Philadelphia and drifting over parts of New Jersey on the morning of January 9, 1793. “If the day is calm,” the French balloonist had explained to some Philadelphia enthusiasts who wished to follow his flight on horseback, “there will be full time to leave the prison court without precipitation, as I will ascend perpendicularly, but if the wind blows, permit me, gentlemen, to advise you not to attempt to keep up with me. …” In fact, the day was fine for riding as well as for flight. After several rounds of cannon salutes and a bon voyage from the President of the United States himself, Blanchard was aloft. He enjoyed a snack and glass of wine and sampled the air at the exotic altitude of six hundred feet before landing forty-five minutes later on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. His followers were still on the ferry when he landed, but later they all headed for a local tavern along with the two farmers who had discovered the Frenchman.

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