JP Blanchard First Balloon Flight in America

The First Balloon Flight in North America.

9th January 1793.

Jean Pierre Blanchard decided to set out for America aboard the ship Ceres on September 30, 1792. He arrived in Philadelphia on December 9th and 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 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.

There was a flurry of excitement outside the prison at a quarter to ten, when a carriage bearing President George Washington arrived. As the President stepped down, the crowd hushed respectfully. Fifteen cannons roared in salute.

Inside the yard, Blanchard was ready. When the president approached, followed by the French ambassador and other dignitaries, Blanchard took off his plumed hat, bowed briefly and exchanged pleasantries with his distinguished guests.

Blanchard loaded some food, wine, and meteorological instruments into the balloon gondola and prepared to cast off. Just as he was going to take off, a well-wisher shoved a small black dog into Blanchard’s arms which he accepted rather dubiously. He dropped the animal into the basket and climbed into the wicker basket, President Washington shook his hand, wished him bon voyage, and handed him a ‘passport’ letter recommending ‘to all citizens of the United States, and others, that… they oppose no hindrance…to the said Mr. Blanchard’ and assist him in his efforts to ‘advance an art, in order to make it useful to mankind in general.’

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 south.

“I strengthened my stomach with a morsel of biscuit and a glass of wine”, Blanchard later wrote He 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 a bit afraid 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 turned up carrying 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 back in his carriage .
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.


 The Nuttall Encyclopædia

The first Air Voyage in America – First person Account by Jean Pierre Blanchard.

Ballooning 1782-1972