Balloons Then and Now

  • 1860

    In the Civil War, Union troops, like French Army before them, used balloons to spy behind enemy lines to see how battles were going.
  • 1875

    Three French scientist, exploring the atmosphere, soared to 25,000 feet in a balloon. The men took bottles of oxygen with them, but when the balloon landed only one scientist had survived.
  • 1900

    The early 1900s brought the dirigible, or blimp. Made of several balloons, it was fitted with motors and propellers that let the pilot steer. A cabin on the underside held more than 100 people on Atlantic crossings.
  • 1932

    The man who invented a way to travel safety high into the atmosphere was a Swiss named Auguste Piccard, who built a ball shaped aluminum gondola. Sealed inside with oxygen tanks, he safely reached a height of 54,000 feet.
  • 1961

    Brave men kept going higher and higher. Two U.S. Navy officers Malcolm D. Ross and Victor Prather Jr., went up 113,740 feet in an open gondola to test space suits for astronauts.
  • 1999

    Others had crossed the oceans, but Bertrand Piccard (grandson of Auguste) and Brian Jones were the first to balloon non-stop around the world, covering 30,000 miles in 20 days. Their balloon was a cross between a hot-air balloon and a gas balloon.
  • Present day

    Planes have long been the way to travel by air, but you often see a dirigible carrying a TV crew above a football game or other sports event.
  • Every day

    Hundreds of small weather balloons explore the atmosphere and transmit their findings to Earth.