The Early History of Ballooning

The caged duck looked down as terra firma slowly drifted away. Above the duck, a balloon, constructed of paper and fabric, provided the lift necessary to carry aloft the duck and its companions, a sheep and a rooster. Never before had a human, let alone a duck, flown in a balloon. The year was 1783, a milestone year for aviation -- the dream of flying had finally been realized. On October 15th of that year, a few months after the duck's historic flight, a balloon, 'Aerostat Reveillon,' launched in France, carrying scientist Pilatre De Rozier, and rose to the end of its 250 foot tether. It stayed aloft for fifteen minutes and then landed safely nearby.

A month later De Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes flew, untethered, to 500 feet and traveled about five and a half miles in a 20-minute flight, the first 'free flight' made by man. The Montgolfier-designed balloon was heated by a straw fire that eventually caused the balloon to catch on fire, but the two French brothers soon went on to design the first successful, unmanned (and unducked for that matter) balloon.

Although these early crude balloons were a far cry from today's high-tech contraptions, the science of ballooning and sending humans aloft had begun. In the years to follow, humans had access to the skies like never before, and with the advent of hydrogen ballooning, even the sky seemed to offer no limit.

For a good outline of the early history of ballooning, link to Mark Jervis's write-up.