Jean Pierre Blanchard decided to set out for America aboard the ship Ceres on September 30, 1792. He arrived in Philadelphia on December 9. He was received by President George Washington and Pennsylvania Governor General Thomas Mifflin. Blanchard had already made 44 balloon flights in Europe; he proposed to make his 45th in the United States.
The City of Philadelphia allowed him to use the yard of the Walnut Street Prison, on the southeast corner of 6th and Walnut Streets. Temperatures on the appointed day were relatively mild for that time of year. Despite the cloudy skies, he began filling the balloon with hydrogen, or “inflammable air”, as he called it. Then the sun came out.
At ten o’clock, the appointed hour, it was 47degrees f with clear skies and a light breeze. President George Washington was there but could not speak French. Despite his time in England, Blanchard did not speak English. To assist him when he landed, President Washington handed him a “passport” that contained the request that anyone reading the document “oppose no hindrance or molestation to the said Mr. Blanchard”.
Finally, all was ready.
Blanchard loaded some food, wine, and meteorological instruments into the balloon gondola and prepared to cast off. A cannon report signalled the start of the flight. At first, he hovered a foot off the ground as two men held on to the gondola. Then, he asked them to let go and the balloon took off. As he ascended, Blanchard was “astonished” at the “immense number of people, which covered the open places, the roofs of the houses, the steeples, the streets, and the roads, over which my flight carried me in the free space of the air.”
He heard their cheers as he passed overhead and headed in a generally southerly direction. The only passenger he took on the flight a small black dog given to him by a friend.
“I strengthened my stomach with a morsel of biscuit and a glass of wine”, as Blanchard later wrote, then decided to land on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. Opening the valve, he began his descent. At first the balloon was headed toward a densely wooded area, so Blanchard released some ballast to regain altitude. On the third attempt, he finally found a suitable landing spot. Jean Blanchard landed in Deptford Township, New Jersey, at 10:56 AM. He’d travelled about fifteen miles.
A curious observer noted the balloon and came over for a look. At first, he seemed fearful and was about to leave, then Blanchard held up a bottle of wine. Soon, the man was helping him gather the balloon for transport back to Philadelphia. Another person approached, carryi
ng a gun. The first man assured him Blanchard was an “honest man” and had some “excellent wine.” Soon, all three were organising the balloon.
More people arrived and before long, the balloon envelope was packed inside the gondola and everything loaded on a carriage.
Everyone seemed impressed by the note from President Washington. “How dear the name of Washington is to this people!” he later wrote.
Accompanied by a large group of horsemen, Blanchard rode to a tavern about three miles away. There, he met Mr. Jonathan Penrose, who offered Blanchard a ride in his carriage to the banks of the Delaware River.
After crossing the river, Penrose had another carriage ready and they went to the lawyer’s house in Southwark. While Blanchard ate another meal, Penrose arranged to get the balloonist back to Philadelphia.
He arrived at his room around 7:00 PM, the first flight in the new Republic a complete success.