By Patricia Lightfoot

Place: The west end of the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Time: December 1, 1783

What was happening: The first manned flight of a hydrogen-filled balloon took place 10 days after the first manned flight of a hot air balloon, or montgolfiere. As described by Charles Coulston Gillespie in The Montgolfier Brothers and the Invention of Aviation 1783-1784 (Princeton University Press, 1983), crowds gathered in the Jardin des Tuileries to watch the ascent of the gas balloon, which was piloted by physicist J.A.C. Charles and the younger of the brothers Robert, who had assisted Charles in developing the balloon. Among other challenges, this had required the invention of a process to extract hydrogen on an industrial scale, which was an extremely hazardous undertaking, featuring the pouring of large quantities of sulphuric acid over iron filings to generate the gas. Continue reading “A place and time”