Consumerism and the Rise of Balloons in Europe at the End of the 18th Century

Michael R Lynn. Science in Context. Volume 21, Issue 1. 2008.

In the fall of 1785, Count Zambeccari, an Italian nobleman living in London, advertised in the Morning Post the imminent launch of his balloon, currently exhibited at the Lyceum, by noting the availability of “tickets to partake of the peculiar pleasure inseparable from aeriel [sic] evolutions.” In addition, Zambeccari pointed out that the best accommodations would be “under cover, provided with fires, and perfectly comfortable.” Ticket prices ranged from five shillings to half a guinea (Morning Post, 19 March 1785, 1). This advertisement was one of many that appeared in England and across Europe after the discovery of aeronautics in 1783. As historian L.T.C. Rolt has suggested, “it soon became evident that there was money in ballooning” (Rolt 1966, 82). Significantly, the invention of ballooning also coincided with a period of rapid increase in consumerism. As a new object of potential commodification, the ways in which savants and entrepreneurs treated balloons offer insights into the manner in which new thinking about luxury and economics, as well as the role of scientific innovation in the marketplace, had evolved at the end of the age of Enlightenment.

The history of ballooning has received considerable attention from scholars. Historians of science and technology tend to focus either on the chemical innovations necessary to identify and manufacture the large quantities of hydrogen necessary to launch a balloon or on the place of ballooning in the history of flight and, more generally, transportation. Other scholars have concentrated on individuals or local efforts with a particular emphasis on ballooning firsts or ballooning disasters. For the most part, studies of ballooning take as axiomatic the popularity of ballooning and, with few exceptions, spend little time examining the interplay between balloonists and their audience (see Rolt 1966; Hodgson 1924; Gillispie 1983; The Baud-Sorger 2004; Gillespie 1984; Kim 2006). This essay will explore how the general public participated in the early years of ballooning through their economic support and how aeronauts acted to market balloons, in a variety of forms and formats, to the public. Marketers, however, had to fashion the balloon into something that their customers both wanted to buy and which fit into the price range of a large enough segment of the population so that a profit could be made. Since large-scale balloons, those large enough to carry passengers, were too expensive to sell to the average consumer, balloonists needed to take new approaches to determine those aspects of the launch process they could market. Entrepreneurs, rather than selling the actual balloon, concentrated on selling the launch or at least the opportunity to witness and participate in the launch. Of course, once a balloon had taken off and reached a certain point in the sky, it became impossible to control who watched. Thus, balloonists sold other aspects of the launch process leading up to that moment. In addition to the launch, balloonists also introduced various forms of entertainment that became part of the sales pitch. Simultaneously, other entrepreneurs created balloon-related merchandise which they promoted to the general population. Although this essay focuses on launches, we need to keep in mind the larger growth of a balloon-centered material and literary culture.

I argue that the broad success of ballooning in England and France, just as those regions had greater success with their economies in general, arose from the appropriation of a variety of marketing tools, such as newspaper advertisements and the use of subscriptions, to identify potential consumers and fund launches (McKendrick, Brewer, and Plumb 1982; Brewer and Porter 1993; also see Miller 1995; Mukerji 1983; Welch 2005). While balloonists occasionally marketed flights in other regions too, ballooning in England and France developed a much stronger commercial side than it did anywhere else in Europe or in North America (Crouzet 1990). This development owes much to the presence of both a larger middling class toward which aeronauts and entrepreneurs focused their advertising, the existence of a commercially oriented periodical press, and the fact that a group of people existed in those two countries who expressed interest in purchasing something as ephemeral as access to a balloon launch. The number of balloonists able to obtain sufficient funds for launches in England and France, even if only for a short period, demonstrates the public interest and ability to invest in events such as a balloon experiment and justifies focusing almost exclusively on those two countries.

To get at the commercialization of ballooning I examine the methods used by balloonists to fund their launches, particularly their use of newspapers to advertise advance subscriptions and ticket sales. I also explore some of the reasons why people chose to spend money on launches; in other words, what relationship existed between audiences, balloonists, and launches? The overall goal is to illuminate the possibilities of economic involvement in aeronautics, and science more generally, by a wide group of people as well as to suggest the meanings they might have attached to their investment in this practice or, at least, the meanings marketers thought people might connect to the purchase of balloons. In other words, this essay explores the means by which savants might market themselves and their science to the general public and the ways in which people could appropriate ballooning in accord with their own interests.

An analysis of the commodification of balloons offers some insight into ongoing debates about the nature of the economy and the growth of consumerism at the end of the eighteenth century. As Joyce Appleby and others have argued, consumption was a “force that had to be reckoned with” (Appleby 1993, 164-165). How and why people engage in new consumer behaviors, however, remains murky for the late eighteenth century as does the development of mass consumption at the end of the nineteenth century. Neil McKendrick has argued forcefully for the birth of a consumer society emerging over the course of the long eighteenth century while others have dismissed this as misguided. While some have focused on consumption as a generalized phenomenon, others have concentrated their attention on the “consuming moment,” the relationship between a specific consumer or set of consumers and a specific purchase. This essay will not deal specifically with the question of whether or not the late eighteenth century saw the birth of a consumer society. I take it as self-evident that the era of ballooning coincided with a time in which consumption was not only possible, but also rampant and growing. This essay spotlights the ways in which people supported and influenced the new science of aeronautics as well as how balloonists sold their wares or, more precisely, the manner in which balloonists sought to identify potential consumers in their advertisements and the ways in which those advertisements changed to reflect adjustments to thinking about advertising, the need to attract more and different customers, and shifts in the cultural meaning of balloons (such as their perceived utility, entertainment value, and scientific purpose). While many theories for consumer behavior have been proposed—including, among others, emulation, novelty, and a rising romantic ethic—the focal points here will be, on the one hand, the emphasis aeronauts placed on the entertaining nature of ballooning and, on the other hand, the connection between balloons and the Enlightenment (McKendrick, Brewer, and Plumb 1982; Veblen [1889] 1994; Simmel 1904; Elias 1983; Baudrillard 1998; also see Smith 2002; Jennifer Jones 2004; Campbell 1987; Schwartz 1998). The birth of aeronautics provides historians with an example of how commercially-minded aeronauts might market this new product in order to attract an audience and so offers an opportunity to understand those themes and topics entrepreneurs believed would appeal to their potential consumer base.

While a dearth of sources prevents direct analysis of why people invested in balloons, aeronautic advertisements provide a wealth of information on what balloonists thought would attract consumers to their launches. Certainly there was a novelty factor. As the latest scientific wonder, people flocked to see and experience this new invention (Bianchi 1998; McCracken 1990, chap. 1; Schaffer 1993, 489-490). But it remains difficult to comprehend how people understood this experience and why, specifically, they decided to invest limited resources into accessing launches. The main difficulty in unraveling the mentalities of early modern shoppers lies in the nearly impossible task of accessing consumer thinking in the early modern period (Glennie 1995, 166; cf. Campbell 1995, 111).

The reasons why people may have wished to participate in balloon launches form a wide spectrum of possibilities. Balloons could be assigned a wide variety of cultural values—such as “useful,” “enlightened,” or “scientific”—and, as such, could be used by consumers to fulfill a variety of functions (Glennie 1995, 180). Consumers may have felt that they acquired some cultural capital through their participation in the aeronautic marketplace (Miller 1987; more generally Bourdieu 1977 and idem 1984).

Balloonists may have had to invent the field of aeronautics, but they did not have to reinvent the wheel when it came to the marketing of scientific phenomena and instruments. Entrepreneurs had sold science and science-related objects to consumers for some time. Individuals enrolled and participated in public lecture courses as well as purchasing science books, broadsides, and other commercial ventures related to just about every branch of science that appeared consistently throughout the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Schaffer 1993; Secord 1985; Walters 1997; idem 1999; Stewart 1992; Sutton 1995; Robbins 2002; Lynn 2006a). But the scale here paled in comparison to the expenses associated with aeronautics. Not only did balloons cost a lot of money to construct and inflate, but they also tended to break down at the end of almost every launch since landing balloons proved more punishing than take off. Even if an aeronaut could use the same balloon multiple times with, perhaps, only minor repairs, it still required inflation for each use. Thus, balloonists needed to turn to alternative methods of funding their work.

Just as balloonists had models to follow in presenting their work to a paying audience, so too did the audience have experience in appropriating science. In general, people did not assume a passive stance in their relationship with knowledge acquisition; instead, they selected those aspects of scientific culture that appealed to them and felt free to ignore the parts they found less interesting or useful. As Jan Golinski has shown in the case of barometers, people who bought scientific equipment often did so with specific notions of how to adapt or alter the instruments to their own ideas and interests. Such consumers of science, argues Golinski, might also interpret instruments in ways antithetical to the ideas attached to them by their creators (Golinski 1999, 78, 71). Similarly, purveyors of balloons probably had concrete ideas about how viewers should understand and interpret their work. On the one hand they saw the launch as entertainment and spectacle; on the other hand, some balloonists certainly wanted people to believe they conducted serious, enlightened scientific work, and possibly some of them did. These individuals may have hoped to create an image of themselves as savants as well as, or perhaps rather than, showmen.

Consumer behavior during the age of the Enlightenment encouraged public economic participation in cultural activities. A number of individuals and groups had already employed subscriptions as a money-raising tool prior to the advent of ballooning. Authors and publishers often sold books in this manner as a way to ensure that most of the copies from any given print run would already have a market. This practice expanded to include the creation of subscription libraries and reading societies. Certain kinds of charitable institutions, such as hospitals, were funded through subscriptions.1 In England some subscriptions were taken up to raise funds for the building of ships. Cultural events also might receive public sponsorship through this means. Mozart, for example, dared to turn his back on noble patronage for a series of three publicly funded concerts in 1784 (Lough 1971, 19-20; Darnton 1979; Waquet 1993; Allan 2001; Chartier 1987; Berry 1997; Aoki 2003; Christiensen 2003). Thus, balloonists, on the one hand, appropriated a technique common in the Enlightenment to fund cultural activities. On the other hand, they were not operating against a normative standard of noble or royal court patronage for their particular event. On the contrary, as purveyors of a new commodity, once aeronauts introduced subscriptions, they became the norm. As such, balloonists found their launches almost solely in the hands of the paying public rather than at the mercy of state or noble sponsors. This helps explain the need to entertain and the often cursory emphasis placed on performing scientific experiments while aloft. Some individuals did critique subscriptions; John Jeffries, a doctor and companion to Blanchard across the English Channel, thought they were a “tax on the curiosity of the public” and lamented that no better means had been established for funding launches (Jeffries [1786] 1941, 29). For the most part, however, balloonists successfully and consistently used subscriptions and tickets to pay for the efforts.

Eighteenth-century consumers, however, could not turn automatically to a specific set of merchants in order to satisfy their desire for aeronautica. On the contrary, balloons did not fall immediately to one specific subset of the market economy or, for that matter, to a specific subset of the scientific community. Instead, balloonists and the people who manufactured and sold balloons and balloon-related merchandise emerged from a variety of areas and included a civil servant, several scientific lecturers, an umbrella manufacturer, a maker of artificial flowers, and a confectioner. Thus, the public did not have an obvious place to go if they wanted access to balloons; no “Balloon Street” existed as a counterpoint to “Grub Street” and the profession of “balloonist” was up for grabs to whoever wished to claim the title. Without a tradition to follow, aeronauts had to reach out to their potential audience and help them navigate this new terrain in ways not necessarily required for other, pre-existing trades. To help their audience identify themselves, balloonists turned almost immediately to newspaper advertisements which were also undergoing extensive changes in form. Alongside a rapid growth of consumption came changing attitudes toward competition and marketing.

Prior to this transitional period, advertisements did not necessarily focus on enticing customers or trying to lure potential consumers away from other proprietors. In both England and France, at least initially, advertisers felt “little desire to puff the wares” and there was “none of the subtlety found in modern marketing which more often than not tries to create a feeling of sympathy between the potential customer and the product without listing the latter’s qualities too overtly, while aiming it precisely at a clearly identified social group” (Todd 1989, 532, 544-545). However, in the second half of the eighteenth century the new commercial advertising targeted the emerging middling classes and engaged in exactly this kind of behavior. In other words, “advertising” had generally implied the public nature of a thing in the earlier period while later definitions focused on it as a “way of exerting influence on the public for commercial ends,” which is to say it became appropriate for advertisers to use newspapers to try to attract customers (Coquery 2000, 97; Walsh 2000, 84; Colin Jones 1996; Feyel 1995; Wischermann 2000, 1-2). As marketers of a new product, aeronauts advertised in such as way as to attract a market, something not accomplished automatically even with an invention as innovative and different as balloons. Of course, not all references to balloons in the periodical literature of the day were commercial. On the contrary, a considerable number of articles appeared that simply announced the impending launch of a balloon or reported on the relative success or failure of the experiment. Frequently, local newspapers included information on launches from other countries, especially if they were performed by particularly famous aeronauts or, predictably, if some disaster or problem attended the launch. However, commercial advertising of balloons played a significant role in the eighteenth-century press; the press flooded the market with almost daily news reports on this invention, those involved in its development, and details of all launches.

As John Styles has argued, new products required some sort of product definition in order to become successful (Styles 2000, 132). So, how were balloons marketed? A great deal of information can be gleaned from advertisements in French and British newspapers about the nature of this product, its intended consumer base, and the reasons why consumers should be interested in it in the first place. When it came to the material forms of consumer culture, entrepreneurs simply added balloons to already existing products; thus, a profusion of balloon hats, games, liqueurs, furniture, and so on rapidly spread. Balloon launches, however, were unfamiliar and entrepreneurs needed to establish a market for them. The “newness” of the product had to be “reconciled with consumers’ pre-existing experience, knowledge, and expectations” (ibid., 165). Marketers created an initial need for balloons and strove to maintain interest in this new product over time.

Although often perceived as less scientific and more business-oriented, balloonists themselves emphasized the dual nature of their commodity—the spectacular nature on the one hand and their philosophical, economic, and scientific usefulness on the other. Zambeccari expressed happiness in the thought that his launch contributed to the entertainment of the people (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 20 January 1785, 1). This trope received further reinforcement through the number of festivals using balloons, such as the coronations of Napoleon and Louis XVIII in France and George IV in Great Britain, as well as for holiday celebrations such as Christmas. During the French Revolution balloons helped commemorate the fall of the Bastille. Balloons were associated with a party atmosphere and might be launched in the midst of music, food, and dancing (Chronique de Paris, 25 December 1789, 496; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 15 November 1784, 1). Aerial voyages were a “new spectacle” that appealed to the interests of the “curious” (Affiches de Toulouse et du Haut-Languedoc, 4 February 1784, 21; L’Anne´e litt´eraire 1785, 142; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 August 1784, 1; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 5 May 1785, 1). Balloonists sold their invention as a great curiosity that people would, of course, want to see close up. In this sense, balloons can be viewed as a luxury, albeit one set at a price more affordable than most luxuries, which were designed to promote pleasure and happiness. All fashionable people would want to take part in this entertainment (Morning Post, 2 October 1784, 1).2 Thus, balloonists identified their wares as potential entertainment; this did not require much imagination, but it did mean that aeronauts needed to create a festival-like atmosphere around their launches and pre-launch activities. The increasingly elaborate activities associated with launches are a direct result of this realization on the part of aeronauts.

In addition, balloonists conspicuously identified their launches as experiments that could contribute to humanity’s overall understanding of its place in the world (Freeman’s Journal, 23-25 June 1785, 1; Affiches de Paris, 3 October 1790, 3066). The launch itself constituted an experiment; but aeronauts also made a point of detailing what kinds of equipment they planned to take on their launch so they could perform experiments while afloat. Meteorological devices appeared most often although sometimes the advertisements remained somewhat vague referring only to instruments and machinery ( Journal de Paris, 13 June 1786, 677; Lunardi 1784, 8-9; Morning Post, 16 January 1784, 1). The emphasis on the launch as an experiment worked as a method to include the audience in the event; balloonists transformed customers into witnesses for the scientific performance who could then testify as to its veracity and success. Thus, just as the Montgolfier brothers had done at their first launch in Annonay, balloon experiments in general, as well more specific aspects of the launch like new methods of filling the balloon or of steering it, became opportunities for the public to participate in this new science (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 3 June 1785, 1; Morning Post, 12 May 1785, 1). This helps explain the vast number of eyewitness accounts published as pamphlets or in the periodical press. As balloons came to symbolize the age of reason, especially with their focus on the conquest of nature and the potential utility of the invention, aeronauts implicitly carved out a new manner in which individuals, for the price of a ticket, could become active members of the Enlightenment (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 30 April 1784, 1; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 12 August 1784, 1). Buying a ticket for a launch, then, might also mean that the ticket-holder could claim to have witnessed an important new discovery relating to aeronautics. Thus, while it remains difficult to identify exactly how participants might have used balloons to fashion their own identity, balloonists could use their customers to create an experience in which the audience verified the success of their scientific work.

While Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier paid for their early experiments out of their own pocket, they certainly did not intend to maintain that method for funding further experiments. Instead, they quickly turned to the state for funding and support. In other words, the Montgolfiers appealed to state patronage for help. The Montgolfiers carefully planned the unveiling of their new invention to coincide with the diocesan assembly of Vivarais in Annonay; this group of men had the appropriate status to act as acceptable witnesses to the launch and sign an affidavit forwarded to the crown and the Academie Royal des Sciences (Gillispie 1983). The Montgolfiers, in part, attempted to garner official accolades and recognition; however, their actions also reflected the economic reality behind the expenses that balloonists might incur.

Before the Montgolfiers fully initiated the process for patronage, however, Barthelemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, an enthusiastic supporter of balloons, called for a public subscription to fund the first launch in Paris. He established what he claimed was the “first national subscription,” based in a variety of locations but especially the famous Cafe de Caveau at the Palais-Royal in Paris (Faujas de Saint-Fond [1784] 1968, I:8-9). This tactic made sense, at least to Faujas de Saint-Fond, for a variety of reasons. First, no obvious or automatic institutional base for ballooning existed and so no direct avenue for funding requests was truly available. Some academicians expressed interest in ballooning, mostly people like Lavoisier who performed some experiments on hydrogen in support of his chemical reforms; in addition, the Academie Royale des Sciences established two commissions to study the topic (Kim 2006). However, none of the early balloonists was a member of the major royal academies. Neither were they independently wealthy. Although the Montgolfiers were fairly well-to-do, as part of a large paper-making family, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Jacques-Alexandre-Ce`sar Charles worked as popularizers of experimental physics while in England, James Sadler was the son of a pastry chef and Vincenzo Lunardi a minor government official. Early balloonists came from a variety of walks of life and were not especially well off as a group. From the beginning, therefore, balloon launches were in the hands of people outside the scientific and economic elite who needed to make money from their efforts in order to earn a living.

Initially, of course, subscriptions did target an elite audience and required little salesmanship. As Faujas de Saint-Fond wrote, amateurs in physics found themselves intensely occupied by balloons and, when he announced the subscription for the first experiment in Paris, little effort seemed necessary to gather enough participants to cover the costs (Faujas de Saint Fond [1784] 1968, I:7-9). For this launch of the hydrogen balloon created by J. A. C. Charles with the help of the Robert brothers, Faujas de Saint-Fond publicized a subscription in the hope of raising 10,000 livres (ibid., I:35). As Antoine de Rivarol noted, tickets simply indicated the “place, the day, and the hour” of the launch. The owner of the Cafe´ de Caveau acted as treasurer for the subscription; he received so many requests for tickets, reported Rivarol, that he claimed to have never been more financially happy (Rivarol [1808] 1968, II:213). The Courrier d’Avignon also reported on the success of this subscription. “Princes, ministers, men of letters, [and] citizens of every condition [tous e´tats],” the author of the article announced, were impressed enough by the enterprising work accomplished by these physicists to purchase tickets (Courrier d’Avignon, 9 September 1783, 288). The tone of the advertisements, however, was not particularly commercial. Instead, it was clear that the goal was to fund a scientific experiment of national importance rather than pay for a good, a service, or an entertainment. In any case, the call for assistance to fund this first Parisian launch resulted in an overabundance of support leading it to become oversubscribed, although that was certainly not a problem. Faujas had aimed for 10,000 livres, but rumors suggested that the amount raised came closer to 50,000. This resulted, according to one report, in some financial wrangling among Charles, the Robert brothers, and the owner of the Cafe´ de Caveau, perhaps on how to divide the surplus money (Correspondance litt´eraire, philosophique et critique, 13 August 1783, 347-348).

Balloonists used ticket sales to fund even moderately priced launches, such as the one organized by the Abbe´s Calmet and Touche in Rodez in August of 1784 which cost a mere eighteen-hundred livres (Affiches de Toulouse et du Haut-Languedoc, 18 August 1784, 136). The subscription set up to finance the Montgolfier brothers’ 1784 launch in Lyon aimed to raise a total of 4320 livres; the goal was to enroll 360 people at twelve livres each. Ultimately, they sold 283 subscriptions to 174 people and collected 3396 livres toward the cost of the equipment (Faujas de Saint Fond [1784] 1968, II:84- 85; Cazenove 1887, 60-63; Hunn 1982, 219-20). Several balloonists opened equally expensive subscriptions aimed at the French elite. When Pilaˆtre de Rozier announced his first flight in a Montgolfier-designed balloon he received twelve hundred livres from his noble patrons and opened a subscription to fund the rest. The tickets cost twenty-four livres and came with four passes for viewing the launch (Affiches de Province, 3 November 1783, 1264-5). Other balloonists adopted this model, such as in a 1784 launch in Dijon. For twenty-four livres the subscriber received four tickets to the launch as well as admission to a second launch to take place sometime later. The balloon-ists invited individuals who purchased three subscriptions to attend all the preliminary work in the construction and inflation of the balloon and gave them the honor of having their names printed, along with a description of the flight, after the experiments were over (ibid., 20 March 1784, 171-2). Alternately, to help advertise their event, Charles and the Robert brothers put their balloon on display several days in advance, along with the rest of their equipment, a tactic more frequently employed in Britain. This enormously successful subscription may have earned them as much as 50,000 livres. Charles and the Robert brothers clearly collected more than just respect for their efforts (Courrier d’Avignon, 9 April 1784, 119-20; Gillispie 1983, 57; Robert and Robert 1784; Hunn 1982, 390).

As one might suspect, aeronauts felt only a minimal need to advertise in order fill the subscriptions for these early launches. The immense popularity and novelty of balloons ensured that this new invention dominated newspapers, letters, and conversations throughout Europe and the Americas. Quickly, French balloonists began to set their subscriptions at a lower rate, usually three livres or less, in order to allow a larger segment of the population to purchase access to launches. In England, where Zambeccari, in the opening example, had charged five shillings and more, the rate for tickets fell to around one shilling although some tickets remained as high as two shillings six pence. In other words, most aeronauts tried to garner patronage from a larger number of people each paying a small amount. This was an essential shift in ballooning, and popular science in general. By targeting a broader audience, these balloonists placed their status, economic livelihood, and future in the hands of the public in ways that their elite counterparts did not wish to do. Historian Charles Gillispie suggests that some balloonists avoided public support for their work to prevent the public from overly influencing when and where launches would take place; most crucially, according to Gillispie, the general population expressed disinterest in the potential use of this new invention for experimentation. From his point of view, the public’s interest in balloons was regrettable since it prevented aeronauts from accomplishing anything of real scientific value (Gillispie 1983, 31). Zambeccari, for example, tried to limit the number of people at his launches. He would not announce the day or time of the launch but instead printed that information on the tickets; in addition, he pleaded with ticket holders to “forbear communicating” that information to the public in order to “prevent the inconvenience of too numerous an assemblage of spectators.” Rather than an effort to focus on science, this seemed equally an attempt to prevent a riot in case of failure and to ensure that all those who saw the launch had paid for the privilege (Morning Post, 19 March 1785, 1). However, there were only a few balloonists who could afford to eschew public support. Thus, almost immediately after the advent of ballooning, most aeronauts began selling this new invention to a ready and willing public rather than focusing solely on the top end of the social and economic hierarchy.

Over the first year or so of balloon launches, other calls for subscriptions were equally straightforward. Typically, several locations were identified for the purchase of tickets. Faujas de Saint-Fond had used the centrally-located and popular Cafe Caveau at the Palais-Royal in Paris as the main location for his subscription. The balloonist Campmas sold tickets throughout Paris for his April 1784 launch, mostly from cafe’s including the Cafe de Foi, another Palais-Royal institution and rival to the Cafe Caveau. But Campmas sought subscriptions from a broader geographical area than had Faujas de Saint-Fond; tickets for Campmas’ launch could also be purchased north of the city, near the Temple, as well as at two locations on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne and near the Odeon ( Journal de Paris, 29 April 1784, 525; and ibid., 2 October 1784, 1167). The Robert brothers established a subscription for their launch from the Tuileries garden in November 1783. The emphasis in their advertisements dealt almost solely on logistical questions concerning how ticket holders should enter the garden (ibid., 26 November 1783, 1356, and ibid., 28 November 1783, 1363- 64). A chemistry professor in Nancy named Nicolas opened a subscription, set at the increasingly standard three livres per ticket, for his launch in late 1783. Tickets were available from a M. Willemet, an apothecary; he claimed the subscription was only to “cover the costs of the experiment.” It does not seem as if Nicolas had definite pecuniary ambitions; he simply tried to defray the considerable expenses associated with ballooning (Journal de Nancy, 17 December 1783, 47-48). Organizers of the early launches in France, therefore, do not appear particularly mercenary in character, nor did it require much salesmanship on their part to lure customers. Instead, the balloon acted as the chief attraction in these notices. Aeronauts apparently did not consider any other enticement necessary to get people to subscribe.

In London, advertisers initially approached their task in a slightly different manner than their French counterparts. For one thing, the first balloonists offering launches in Britain did not speak of subscriptions even though they had that option. Instead, when Zambeccari and Biaggini launched their balloons in November and December of 1783, the advertisements talked only of entrance tickets. The implication here is that the balloons would be launched no matter how many people paid to attend; but they also expressed no worries that enough people would buy tickets to fund the project successfully. In addition, the British ads created a larger market for ballooning by also selling access to the balloon in advance, something the French tended to include in the overall price. Aeronauts in Britain sold tickets for these viewings separately from those of the launch itself thus enabling merchants to reap greater profits from the event. Consumers could pay to watch the construction of the balloon, as well as simply to see it in its inflated state, but in the comfort of an indoor environment. Then they could buy tickets to view the launch itself. Thus, Biaggini constructed and launched a balloon in late November 1783. Interested persons could purchase tickets for this early British launch from Biaggini at a well-known exhibition hall called the Lyceum, at his house, and from a pub called the Swan. The launch itself, overseen by Zambeccari, took place on 25 November 1783 on the grounds of the Artillery Company. The extent to which Biaggini advertised the imminent launch of this balloon caused some comment; the anonymous author of a description of the launch in the Gentleman’s Magazine noted that the event took place after “repeated notice given by advertisement in the publick [sic] papers” (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 24 November 1783, 1; Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1783, 977).

The success of this venture encouraged Biaggini to construct an even larger balloon. He published an advertisement to that effect in the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser as well as in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, and the Morning Post. Biaggini addressed these identical ads to “the Nobility and Gentry” and let it be known that his “Grand Aerostatic Globe,” totaling sixteen feet in diameter, could be viewed at the Lyceum every day, from ten a.m. until four p.m. Visitors could expect a well-aired room and to find fires lit against the chill winter weather. The exhibition, which cost two shillings six pence per person, remained open from 6 December 1783 until 24 December 1783; after that, Biaggini said, he would announce a launch sometime in the near future (Bristol Journal, 3 January 1784, 3; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 18 December 1783, 1; ibid., 24 November 1783, 1; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 6 December 1783, 1; ibid., 19 December 1783, 1; and Morning Post, 18 December 1783, 1). Not all British balloonists followed this option of dividing the event into its component parts and charging people at every stage. James Dinwiddie, who launched the first balloon in Dublin, Ireland, in December 1783, focused just on the launch and did not offer any additional opportunities for viewing the balloon or, from another perspective, of making additional money out of the experiment. He simply announced a location, wrote that seats were available, and set a price of one shilling (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 16 December 1783, 1).

The first few months of ballooning, then, required little effort on the part of entrepreneurs to sell the idea of the launch. Patrons and customers appeared quite willing to step forward to view this novelty, whether at the launch or in the various stages of its construction, and required little encouragement to spend their money. Significantly, these early calls for subscribers appear more similar to appeals for patronage than attempts to attract customers. Although other aspects of science had undergone commodification by this time, launches did not automatically become the purview of consumers; instead, the possibility still existed that the wealthy, the scientific elite, or the state would control the direction and practice of ballooning. However, the chance for this quickly passed as subsequent calls for subscriptions began to target an ever larger potential customer base. At the same time, the general trend in advertisements earlier in the century, to state the nature of the object for sale and to not dwell on or attempt to convince potential consumers of the need to purchase certain wares, underwent adjustments. Advertisers turned away from such passive methods and turned to more proactive advertisements designed to garner attention for their products. Thus, at the same time that advertising underwent a transformation in purpose and methods, so too did balloonists begin to target a larger group of people. Balloonists could not simply rest on their laurels; instead, the sale of launches required, in the years that followed, more effort and justification on their part. As the spectacle of balloons became common, the need to sell the specific aspects of a particular event grew more necessary. Thus, within a year or two of their invention, many aeronauts began emphasizing the unique qualities of their launches over those of their competitors as some of them began to envision ballooning as a commercial venture.

Throughout 1784, advertisements for launches typically exhibited a tendency to become more elaborate in their offerings. This did not occur uniformly and some subscriptions remained very straightforward. A savant named Leveque in Angers, for example, launched a series of unmanned balloons from that city. His subscriptions cost three livres each and apparently came without any additional inducement, although the subscribers’ names did later appear in print as patrons of a particular launch (Affiches d’Angers, 27 August 1784, 147; Journal Encyclopedique, November 1784, 85- 86). However, in general, it was no longer sufficient simply to announce that a balloon would take off. Now, aeronauts added embellishments to attract potential customers. Two members of the Academie de Dijon, Gattey and Megnie, along with a third person named Henry, proposed in March 1784 the launch of a balloon which, they felt, would ultimately be useful to the government, commerce, and the sciences. Subscriptions cost twenty-four livres but came with four tickets to the launch which allowed individuals to assist in the launch process in a manner not made explicit. However, in addition the subscribers would have access to a second experiment at some yet-to-be determined date, thus bringing the price per person for each launch down to three livres. People who purchased three subscriptions were invited to the preliminary experiments and their names were placed at the head of the journal which would print the results of the experiment after the balloon landed (Affiches de Province, 20 March 1784, 171- 172; Gattey and Henry n.d.). Unfortunately, they failed to entice enough people to subscribe; they needed 10,000 livres to launch their balloon and, therefore, required 417 subscribers; but they apparently never reached their goal (Journal de Paris, 4 April 1784, 419). These aeronauts had set their sights rather high with a relatively expensive subscription; even though the tickets came with a number of amenities, the cost certainly limited their consumer base. A similarly high priced subscription appeared in Avignon in April 1784. There, individuals could purchase a subscription for 120 livres which enabled them to examine the balloon twice prior to launch and to visit the workshop in which the balloonists had constructed the machine. Clearly, the target audience was very well off (Courrier d’Avignon, 9 April 1784, 120).

Other French balloonists tried alternative tactics and set their prices considerably lower. In Toulouse, a self-proclaimed “amateur” balloonist emphasized the high price of balloon launches along with his own inability to cover all the costs. He sold his tickets for a mere three livres each and hoped to raise 6,000 livres; lest the public accuse him of greed, he assured the readers that he would faithfully account for all the money (Affiches de Toulouse et du Haut-Languedoc, 4 February 1784, 21). Campmas made sure to point out his innovative work in steering balloons when he announced his launch in the spring of 1784. Thus, although his subscription cost the usual three livres, there was always the hope that subscribers would be funding someone who had overcome the single greatest problem facing the science of aeronautics. In this way, he linked his launch more explicitly to the scientific side by concentrating on proving its utility (Affiches de Paris, 7 March 1784, 622; Journal de Paris, 29 April 1784, 525). By the fall of 1784 Campmas began to add further incentives to his advertisements. In addition to his claims regarding his ability to steer the balloon, he also began offering details about the globe itself. In October, he claimed he would launch a balloon shaped like an “aerostatic tower” sixty feet high that could carry six people. Potential subscribers could purchase tickets at six different locations throughout Paris, mostly in cafe´s (Journal de Paris, 2 October 1784, 1167; Affiches de Paris, 11 October 1784, 2679).

In England, some balloonists also started emphasizing new details about the balloons. Of course, as with France, not every balloonist in Great Britain operated under the system of charging admission for both viewing the balloon in advance and watching the launch; nor did every balloonist take advantage of lures to draw in customers. After his successful efforts in Dublin, James Dinwiddie exhibited and launched a balloon in January 1784 from Bath without calling undue attention to any special aspects of the globe other than to describe it as “elegant” (Bath Chronicle, 15 January 1784, 3). James Tytler of Edinburgh opened a subscription for his launch during the summer of 1784 and apparently had trouble collecting the money. He announced that a few of the subscribers had yet to pay and that the entire enterprise was still under funded. To convince people of the necessity of buying a ticket, he did announce that during some initial test runs the balloon would be kept on a string both to prevent its escape and so that “its ascent cannot be seen by any person except those admitted” into the viewing area, a local garden (Fergusson 1972, 63).

However, British balloonists increasingly looked to maximize the amount of money they earned from their balloons and developed advertising strategies designed to lure larger numbers of customers. Biaggini, for example, began to differentiate aspects of the launch process. Initially, the division was simply between the launch and anything that happened prior. Biaggini, however, created a third moment for which people could purchase tickets. Potential customers could visit the Pantheon to see the balloon, for the price of two shillings, six pence; or they could pay twice as much which also allowed them to attend the inflation of the globe (Bristol Journal, 3 January 1784, 3). Other aeronauts concentrated on introducing new themes to the construction of their balloons. Some advertisements, for example, lauded the connection between balloons and the exotic, a common theme in Enlightenment Europe (Outram 1995, chap. 5; Rousseau and Porter 1990). Thus, in April 1784 a balloon was put on display prior to launch that was thirty feet high, shaped like a pyramid, and covered with “caricatures, hieroglyphics, and inscriptions.” The next month, exhibitors presented a balloon at the Pantheon based, so the advertiser claimed, on an entirely new plan and was the “largest and most curious of its kind that hath hitherto been executed.” It was designed to represent a “Chinese Temple, superbly decorated with columns, a gallery, &c., and appears, in the operation of filling it, as rising instantaneously out of its ruins, and floating, in a majestic manner, in the body of a thick cloud” (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 30 April 1784, 1; ibid., 11 May 1784, 1). Zambeccari issued a lengthy prospectus for a “large aerostatic globe” that distinguished between potential subscribers. Those who purchased a one-guinea ticket could bring three people to the launch with them and could arrive either on foot or in a carriage. Those who bought the half guinea tickets could only bring one person and had to arrive on foot. In addition, he set up “separate Accommodations in the Place for Persons in Carriages, and for Persons on Foot; the latter will have Seats round the Globe, which will be for Subscribers only, in order to prevent their being incommoded by the Populace.” Subscribers could also view the balloon in advance with the one guinea ticket holders allowed in four times and the half guinea patrons admitted twice ([Zambeccari] 1784). While Zambeccari clearly intended to maximize his profits by keeping the riff-raff out, he also offers an indication of how ballooning became socially stratified. The more you paid, the closer you got to the action and the more comfortable your surroundings.

Some balloonists assumed an even more exalted demeanor regarding their efforts, a posture that could backfire. The Chevalier de Moret, a Swiss aeronaut working in England, placed his balloon launches within a more intellectual (or perhaps spiritual) framework in addition to some visual lures. People who paid the one shilling admission fee to view his balloon would see a balloon “suspended by Omnipotence, floating in the incomprehensible infinity of eternal space!!!” It was designed to appear as solid gold and was “richly decorated with artificial flowers.” As an additional enticement, individuals who bought a ticket would also be given, gratis, a “beautiful print of a balloon, and of Monsieur de Montgolfier filling it” (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 February 1784, 1; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 23 February 1784, 1). In August 1784, de Moret announced his intention to conduct a manned balloon launch. In addition to the usual tickets, de Moret had also advertised, in advance, engravings of the balloon. Individuals who bought copies of this print should have counted themselves the lucky ones since de Moret failed to fill the balloon, much less launch it, resulting in a riot and the destruction of the globe (Morning Post, 4 August 1784, 1). Having emphasized the lofty nature of his experiments, when it failed, the people and the press viciously took him to task.

Vincenzo Lunardi hoped to avoid de Moret’s fate when, in August 1784, he announced the imminent launch of his balloon from the Chelsea Hospital Garden with part of the profits going to those impoverished individuals who lived at the hospital (Rolt 1966, 65). In advertising this launch, purporting to be the first manned flight in Britain (he, and many others, ignored the attempts by James Tytler in Edinburgh), Lunardi provided some extra details about the balloon, pertaining to its description and the attached wings with which he planned to steer it; but these first advertisements were, in general, straightforward. Admission was set at one shilling although those willing to pay more could gain additional access. Tickets at five shillings, half a guinea, and one guinea entitled the bearer to “admission into the Gardens of Chelsea Hospital on the day the Balloon is to be launched, and also to a sight of it before it leaves the Lyceum” (Morning Post, 16 August 1784, 1; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 August 1784, 1; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 14 August 1784, 1). Joseph Banks, the president of the Royal Society of London, was one of the first to subscribe, but overall the launch was an economic disaster (Lunardi 1784, 10). After the riot surrounding de Moret’s failure, the head of the hospital decided not to risk it and withdrew his permission to hold the launch at the hospital. Lunardi scrambled for a different location and finally received permission from the Royal Artillery Company to launch from their training ground.

Whether from disappointment at de Moret’s failure or confusion over the changes in days and locations, attendance at Lunardi’s launch was disappointing in spite of his advertising blitz. A reporter for the Morning Post wrote that “about five hundred people paid for admission into the Artillery Ground yesterday; very few of whom sat in the half-guinea seats and still fewer in the guinea ones; on a moderate computation, therefore, it is supposed the money taken could not amount to much more than” £150 (Morning Post, 17 September 1784, 1; ibid., 8 September 1784, 1). People living around the Artillery Grounds also hurt Lunardi’s profits from this launch; the Morning Post chastised these individuals noting that they “were sorry indeed to observe that such general advantages had been taken by the neighborhood, of farming their windows, and for benefits which were due only to the novelty and spirit of the enterprize; we were the more sorry, as the ground which should have been liberally offered was, under a false idea of generosity, upon the present occasion, most unhandsomely rented” (Morning Post, 16 September 1784, 1; italics in original). This critique also appeared in the Bath Chronicle which added, in agreement with other periodicals, that of the estimated 150,000 who attended the launch, only about five hundred paid money to Lunardi “who at enormous expense, and certainly hazard, made the philosophical effort. Most of the people in the neighbourhood,” the newspaper added, “profited from the curiosity of the public. Their houses were scaffolded from top to bottom; and all those windows which Mr. Pitt’s commutation tax had blocked up, were re-opened for the purpose of accommodating spectators at half a guinea and five shillings a head” (Bath Chronicle, 30 September 1784, 1).

Lunardi’s inability to reap his proper rewards even resulted in the formation of a public subscription after the launch, with the avowed intention of rewarding his “merit” and “as a recompence for the advantages” taken of him by the people living around the Artillery Grounds (Morning Post, 20 September 1784, 1; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 21 September 1784, 1; Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 22 September 1784, 1). The post-launch viewing of the balloon at the Pantheon also proved enormously lucrative. One newspaper suggested that as many as two thousand people attended on 1 October 1784. The Pantheon “seems to have become the fashionable lounging place for all the beauties in town.” Attractions included the balloon, “suspended to the Top of the Dome” along with Lunardi “and his poor fellow Travellers the Dog and Cat who still remained in the Gallery to receive the visits of the curious” (Sheridan 1986, 24). In addition, a “full Band of instruments [was] provided for Minuets, Cotillions, and Country Dances” while some rooms catered to those who wanted refreshments. Lunardi set the price for attending the dancing, which lasted from eight in the evening until midnight, at five shillings, considerably more than the one shilling needed just to view the balloon. Nonetheless, as Betsy Sheridan reported, everybody “gives their shilling to see it” (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 15 November 1784, 1; ibid., 18 November 1784, 1; Bath Chronicle, 7 October 1784, 2; Sheridan 1986, 24).3 We can see Lunardi targeting specific segments of the population with his pricing and seating structure. But the difficulty in gaining customers also seems apparent.

Selling a balloon launch had become an elaborate process by 1785. Launches required additional inducement to lure customers while at the same time balloonists developed increasingly new and novel balloons. In some cases, the shape of the balloon made the difference. Johann Karl Enslen formed his balloons into a variety of pleasing shapes including, of course, Pegasus, as well as a Nymph and a woman with a balloon hairstyle. He exhibited these figures across Europe. In France he joined forces with the Ruggieri brothers, a famous family of pyrotechnicians, to launch his balloons prior to a fireworks display. Seats cost three livres for a seat in the gallery or a loge, or one livre ten sous just for entrance into the garden (Affiches de Paris, 18 October 1785, 2790-2791; Oettermann 1990). In London Enslen performed his spectacle at the Bermondsey Garden in Southwark where the best seats cost two shillings six pence and the less expensive places just one shilling (Courier de l’Europe, 4 July 1786, 8). Enslen reappeared in Paris and London occasionally over the next several years as he toured the continent with his balloon figures (Journal de Paris, 24 September 1786, 1105; Affiches de Trois-Eveches, 27 December 1787, 410; L’Annee litteraire 1785, 142). These unmanned launches had considerable success and were potentially more profitable although less dramatic than manned flights. The profit margin would have been higher since the balloons were smaller and reusable. But without the thrill and risk of a passenger, Enslen’s launches may be considered largely aesthetic events.

As customers became inured to the basic launch, a larger number of perquisites for subscriptions appeared at this time. In France, Alban and Vallet announced their 1785 launch from the town of Javel in a series of advertisements. They said that they were circulating a prospectus; anyone who purchased the prospectus, at three livres a copy, gained one-time admission to see the balloon and its accompanying apparatus in advance of the launch. They also offered a more extended and very expensive course on ballooning, priced at five gold Louis, which came with many amenities. Subscribers could stop by ten times to see the balloon during the month prior the launch, could climb into the gondola, received a complete explanation of how balloons worked, and had seats to watch the launch (Alban and Vallet 1785). Alban and Vallet recognized the need for more elaborate offerings, but also still hoped to attract an elite audience. Their rapid disappearance from the balloon market suggests they may have failed to garner enough customers.

In Britain, balloonists in 1785 also included additional lures in the advertisements. Richard Crosbie, advertising a flight from the Ranelagh gardens in Dublin, began offering the balloon for viewing in advance. Subscribers to the launch could view it as often as they wished while non-subscribers paid one shilling (Freeman’s Journal and Daily Advertiser, 30 December 1784-1 January 1785, 1). In May 1785, Stuart Amos Arnold advertised the unfortunate necessity of limiting access to the construction of his balloon. So many people tried to watch that the workmen complained of all the interruptions. As such, Arnold limited viewers to those who had paid one guinea for tickets to the launch; those who just wanted to watch the balloon being built could, however, pay a one-time fee of one shilling. The one-guinea tickets admitted holders to all the prior exhibitions, a morning excursion on the day of the launch, as well as a seat for the main launch which, if all went well, would take Arnold and his two compatriots, his son and George Appleby, to Paris. For the ten-day period immediately prior to the launch, and after its complete construction, the balloon would be available for viewing free of charge for subscribers and for two shillings six pence for non-subscribers. This exhibition included a band for the entertainment of the spectators (Morning Post, 9 May 1785, 1). The inclusion of music and the development of a range of privileges for ticket holders indicate a continued interest in forming new methods for attracting customers.

By the late 1780s, a few other changes were made to advertisements that balloonists hoped would help get people to invest in their launches. In some cases, a new price structure was introduced and the overall cost reduced. Monsieur Brun opened a subscription in 1787 in which he had a two-tiered price structure, a tactic already in use in Great Britain. Consumers could either pay a higher price, three livres, and get seats close to the launch; or they could pay a mere thirty sous for seats farther away from the action (Affiches des Trois-Eveches, 25 January 1787, 26). The latter price was half that of the norm and certainly would have allowed a larger section of the population to buy tickets. As Brun was working in the French provinces, this price structure may also have reflected the ability of people in his area to afford paying the price of admission, but it might also have been an effort to include yet more people, further down the economic ladder, into the balloon marketplace.

Balloonists, then, slowly increased the number of opportunities for spectators or added elements to the launch that may have made it at least seem like subscribers and ticket holders were getting more for their money. After the initial rush of interest in watching a balloon take off, aeronauts deemed it necessary to add inducements such as the right to view the balloon in advance, have seats for the launch, learn about the physics of ballooning, have music, and so on. However, other balloonists also tried to increase the spectacle of the balloon flight itself; in other words, they began to place increased emphasis on the spectacular and the overall theatrical entertainment value of the launch.

A voyage advertised in Ireland during the summer of 1785 in which Mr. Durry proposed to launch a balloon, accompanied by his sister and a dog, illustrates another method of tempting new customers. At the right moment, Durry claimed, the dog would be suspended over the side of the gondola, wearing nothing but a parachute, and dropped (Freeman’s Journal and Daily Advertiser, 23-25 June 1785, 1). This duplicated an earlier experiment done by Jean-Pierre Blanchard who, on 3 June 1785, also experimented with a parachuting dog. The dog lived to tell the tale and Blanchard repeated this experiment several times with dogs and a cat although he was less successful with a sheep (Hodgson 1924, 172). Dropping animals in parachutes became a common lure in advertisements for the next decade, topped only by the descent of humans in parachutes, something that started in France in 1797 with Andre-Jacques Garnerin (Blanchard n.d.; Coutil 1911, 13-16; Poniatowski 1983; Chronique de Paris, 24 June 1790, 700). While Garnerin was the first successful human parachutist, others had considered the idea. After a particularly disastrous flight, Arnold advertised that in his next attempt he would send one of his friends down in a parachute. This flight, however, never took place (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 2 September 1785, 1). Alternately, Tetu de Brissy offered a different set of incentives that he thought might make his launch more desirable. In 1786 he announced that he would establish an endurance record and stay aloft for twenty-four hours; unfortunately, his balloon did not cooperate and he only lasted five hours. During the French Revolution, Tetu de Brissy returned to ballooning with a launch that included himself astride his horse (Affiches de Province, 24 June 1786, 298-9).

The Ruggieri brothers decided to link launches with pyrotechnics. Initially, they just had balloonists, such as Blanchard and Enslen, come to their gardens and launch balloons. By 1789 they were launching their own balloons with fireworks following the launches. In one instance the Ruggieris appealed to Parisians’ sense of public duty by advertising that the proceeds from a series of launches in 1789 would go to charity (Affiches de Paris, 18 October 1785, 2790-1; Journal de Paris, 23 October 1785, 1219-20; ibid., 28 March 1789, 396; ibid., 11 April 1789, 458; Lynn 2006b). By the early nineteenth century, predictably, some balloonists also set off fireworks from their balloons. Marie-Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, one of the first female professional balloonists and official aeronaute for both Napoleon and the Restoration monarchy, frequently performed balloon launches combined with fireworks displays from the Tivoli Garden in Paris. Her daring flights ended disastrously, however, when on a particularly windy day her balloon caught fire during the display and crashed into a house; she was thrown out of the balloon and onto the street below where she died (Poterlet 1819).

While a number of balloonists came and went quickly, unable to establish themselves in this new market, some, like Jean-Pierre and Marie-Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, transformed themselves into professional aeronauts. This was no small task and, for the most part, people who tried this failed. Nonetheless, the attempt to create a new job indicates the potential some people saw in the developing science of ballooning. As with many professions at this time, aeronautical entrepreneurs tended to run their businesses as a family affair: in addition to the example of the Blanchards, Etienne-Gaspard Robertson worked with his son Eugene, as did James Sadler with his two sons, John and Windham; Jacques Garnerin teamed up with his wife, Jeanne, and niece, Elisa. Women had decent opportunities in this arena: Elisa Garnerin and Marie-Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, for instance, both had fairly lengthy and successful careers (Caron and Gevel 1912; Poniatowski 1983; Canby 1980).

Jean-Pierre Blanchard provided the model for an active, if not exactly successful, professional aeronaut. He set out quite early to make a living from balloons and worked consistently from 1784 up until his death in 1808. During that time he made over sixty launches while simultaneously earning a reputation as someone more interested in money than science (Affiches de Province, 30 October 1784, 615). Blanchard marketed himself quite vigorously; he claimed to have invented ballooning prior to the Montgolfier brothers (based on his failed attempt to launch a flying boat in 1781) as well as the parachute (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 8 November 1784, 1). He often commented on the number of firsts he accumulated; he was the first to fly across the English Channel and the first man to ascend in a balloon in a number of countries including the first flight in a German-speaking area (3 October 1785 in Frankfort sur Main), in Belgium (20 November 1785 in Gand), in Switzerland (5 May 1788 in Baˆle), Poland (30 May 1789 in Warsaw), and the United States (9 January 1793). In general, he used the local papers to announce the impending launch and establish a subscription; when it filled he would arrive and conduct the launch. In this manner he traveled throughout Europe for around twenty-five years where people, mostly, lauded him for his daring feats. Nonetheless, at his death he was not only poor but in debt and his wife decided that she would continue in his footsteps in order to pay off his creditors. She accomplished this and, in the process, achieved her own fame. When Jacques Garnerin’s balloon, launched to celebrate the coronation of Napoleon, allegedly managed to sail across the Alps and land near Rome on the tomb of Nero (an apocryphal story that is too good to be true) Blanchard took over as the emperor’s official balloonist. She continued to work for Napoleon and, after his fall, became the official “aeronaute of the Restoration,” a position she held until her death (Poterlet 1819; Coutil 1911, 20-24; Schnieder 1983; Ferrero 1998).

Blanchard tried to take advantage of the particular enthusiasm for ballooning he encountered while in London in 1785, and by drawing on his fame for crossing the English Channel, when he established a “Balloon and Parachute Aerostatic Academy” (Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 2 June 1785, 1). However, the venture proved a failure; in one of the academy’s first events, Blanchard proved unable to use a parachute with a sheep and he had to give the audience their money back. Later, he advertised that an Italian would play the violin while parachuting; this turned into a fiasco when the violinist only jumped about ten feet causing the crowd to wreck the establishment (Rolt 1966, 89). Soon thereafter Blanchard left England for the continent. He believed that his prices were set so moderately that “no person will be unable to purchase a ticket, and thereby have an opportunity of examining the balloon, and everything necessary to its preparation and equipment as minutely as they please” (Blanchard and Baker 1796, 45). Nonetheless, tickets did not always sell well; Blanchard believed that balloon subscriptions fared worse than any other kind of subscription for the simple reason that for many launches people could so easily view them without paying, as long as they did not mind skipping out on all the pre-launch events and perhaps even miss the exact moment of take-off; in a typical launch, Blanchard thought, “out of more than four or five hundred thousand spectators, there have not been more than one thousand subscribers.” Thus, he claimed, he had never been compensated fully for his efforts (ibid., 43). Others, however, were quick to suggest that Blanchard exhibited undue greed. John Jeffries, his partner on the flight over the English Channel, reported that Blanchard stuck him with the bills for their journey and flight, and then tried to prevent Jeffries from joining him in the balloon by wearing a concealed, and heavy, girdle to make it seem as if the balloon could not carry both passengers (Jeffries [1786] 1941, 39-41). One British critic simply suggested that Blanchard catered to the rich and should have set his prices lower (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 29 June 1785, 1).

While Blanchard made extensive use of advertisements to maintain public interest in his work and announce impending launches, he also wrote treatises after many of his launches detailing what had occurred. Many of these were popular enough to be translated (several appeared in both French and English) (Blanchard 1784; idem 1943; idem 1786). Blanchard filled these accounts with sometimes fantastical details; in one he claimed to have dropped a flag from his gondola but then released hydrogen from the balloon and descended so fast that he recovered the flag before it hit the ground (Rolt 1966, 85). Although accusations of greed against Blanchard were not unique he proved an especially popular target for critics due to his widespread fame, undisguised commercial attitude toward ballooning, and penchant for self-aggrandizement.

The commodification of balloons certainly offers some insight into the nature of consumerism at the end of the eighteenth century; but they might also fit into the rubric of mass consumption and act as an early, if limited, example of what would come to dominate society at the end of the nineteenth century. The spectacular nature of launches and the number of people who could participate, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands, gestures to a scale of consumption rarely seen prior to the modern age. Even if not all the spectators purchased tickets to launches, or bought balloon paraphernalia, their mere attendance indicates the consumption of a cultural moment in much the same way that some individuals simply went to department stores in order to experience the environment and enjoy looking at the available goods (Schwartz 1998; Miller 1981; Williams 1982). The willingness of aeronauts to target as broad a potential customer base as they did indicates a general trend in that direction.

Balloonists certainly took advantage of the developing consumer market that appeared in the second half of the eighteenth century. Relying on a consumer base to fund their adventures and experiments, they reached their audience by using the new commercially-oriented periodical press to their benefit. Aeronauts in the balloon marketplace took full advantage of the public’s interest in scientific activities and their willingness to help pay for new innovations. Even though launches were ultimately rather ephemeral purchases, consumers quickly turned to this new technology as a method of infiltrating the practice of science. The consumption of balloons proved even more appealing, perhaps, because established scientific patrons and institutions did little to support this new invention. This gave the public control over the form taken by balloon launches and helps explain the early emphasis on entertainment over utility.

The public’s interest in funding balloons peaked in the late 1780s, but never fully waned. Balloonists like Blanchard, and later his wife, continued to make the rounds in Europe and North America into the early nineteenth century. However, the invention of new, and cheaper, methods of manufacturing hydrogen soon transformed the nature of aeronautics. Now, balloonists required less initial capital and could launch their balloons without subscriptions. Charles Green, for example, became the preeminent balloon-showman of the early Victorian age making over five hundred flights. Initially he had engaged in the same kind of activities to attract an audience as had earlier balloonists, such as igniting fireworks during his launch; but he was eventually able to eschew such antics and just concentrate on making as many launches as possible (Rolt 1966, 131-132).

The cost of tickets and subscriptions remained reasonably stable throughout the early years of ballooning. Of course, in the first months there were significant variations in prices. Balloonists, during that period, experimented with their potential audience and tried to determine how high, or low, to set prices, as well as who the target audience should be. Once this settled down, however, prices standardized. In France, tickets cost about three livres or less while in Britain tickets ranged from one shilling to two shillings six pence. These prices enabled a broad range of people to indulge their interest in ballooning. Individuals from the middling sorts on up through the nobility had the economic means to buy tickets. Thus, the willingness and ability of everyday people to participate in this new scientific activity meshed with aeronauts’ interest in developing a market for balloons. Through some trial and error, balloonists learned how to advertise this new product and entice new customers. By combining entertainment with Enlightenment, aeronauts forged a new marketplace for the ephemeral and the sublime (Sgard 1992).


The author wishes to thank Michelle Beer for her help in researching this essay. The helpful comments and suggestions provided by Tom Broman, Alexandre Metraux, and the anonymous readers were also greatly appreciated.