On a November night in Paris
in 1908, Wilbur Wright addressed a group of French aviation enthusiasts gathered
to honor him and his brother, Orville, saying that this honor was really a
tribute to "an idea that has always impassioned mankind." With these words,
Wilbur Wright recognized what might be called the universal aspiration to fly.
This desire to elevate oneself above one's environment--to conquer the ocean
of air--can be seen as a perennial struggle evident in nearly every civilization
from classical times to the early twentieth century. As Wilbur spoke that night
in his typically understated style, he seemed to suggest that, instead of achieving
this age-old dream of mankind, he and Orville had been merely participants
in an ancient and ongoing human struggle.
Myth and Religion
From the beginning of recorded history, the theme of flight
can be found in myth and legend, as well as in art, literature, and organized
religion. Almost every culture has its own version of winged angels and devils,
horses and dragons, as well as flying carpets and chariots. The world's folklore
is replete with stories of soaring gods and flying heroes who, unlike humans,
are able to navigate what Wilbur called "the infinite highway of the air."
The exhibition begins with the classic flying myth of Daedalus
and Icarus, and uses rare books, prints, and manuscripts to look at the idea
of flight through ancient times. The exhibition brings to light a strikingly
symbolic uniformity--that the idea of flight suggests freedom and connotes
supernatural power in most cultures.
[Elijah in the flying chariot]
Dordrecht: H. Keuer, 1702.
Rare Book and Special Collections
CHARIOT OF FIRE
One of the best known biblical stories
of flight is the ascension of the Hebrew prophet Elijah,
who was picked up by a chariot and horses of fire and "went
up by a whirlwind into heaven." The symbol of a fiery chariot
that does not burn its occupant recalls the Greek myth of
Helios. Elijah is not only an important figure in the Jewish
faith but is revered by Christians and Muslims. In this story,
flying can be said to represent the idea of the afterlife
or even reincarnation.
BURMESE WINGED CREATURE
This accordian book contains patterns
for amulets and protective tattoos. Mantras or spells encircle
each of the images pictured. The upper image is a half-human,
half-bird creature and is known as a "Kinnara." This mythical
beast was originally an Indian creation thought to inhabit
the Himalayas. The legend spread to the countries of southeast
Asia, including Burma. The lower image is a three-headed
Manuscript of talismans and tattoos from Burma.
Steatite chalk on black paper.
Asian Division (2)
Icarus at merito, cum petat alta, cadit, seventeenth century.
Etching with engraving.
Prints and Photographs
WINGS OF WAX
The Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus
is the classic legend of aeronautics. The Roman poet Ovid
(43 B.C.-?17 A.D.) told of the imprisoned architect and sculptor,
Daedalus, who fashioned wings of wax, feathers, and twine
to escape King Minos of Crete. Daedalus successfully flew
to safety, but his son, Icarus, plunged to his death, having
flown too near the sun. In this moral tale, Daedalus is the
creative artist, "the cunning artificer," but Icarus, having
been "ravisht with desire of heaven," is destroyed by excessive
pride in his powers.
MERCURY--THE WINGED GOD
Mercury, the Roman god of merchants, is
usually depicted wearing winged sandals and a winged cap.
This woodcut showing Mercury in the clouds was created by
the German painter and engraver Hans Brosamer (ca. 1500-1554)
and is derived from a drawing by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).
By the eighth century B.C., the belief that Greek gods possessed
the power of flight and could span both time and distance
at will was well established. The power of flight was considered
the domain of the immortals.
Inscriptiones sacrosanctae vetvstatis.
Ingolstadt: Petrus Apianus, 1534.
Rare Book and Special Collections
" E.D.Palmer's The Spirit's Flight,"
Gift of Henry K. Bush-Brown.
Prints and Photographs Division (7)
"THE SPIRIT'S FLIGHT"
Taken sometime between 1854 and 1860 during
the first generation of photography, this daguerreotype shows
a small marble work by the celebrated American sculptor,
Erastus Dow Palmer (1817-1904). In his bas-relief sculpture
titled "The Spirit's Flight," Palmer captures the traditional
notion that winged beings are ethereal, and that flight is
a non-human attribute.
The winged figure of Victory, standing
behind the mother holding a child with an olive branch, harkens
back to the Nike, who served as an angel or messenger of
the gods in Greek mythology. Nike came to personify victory
and was usually depicted as a powerful and majestic woman
with beautiful wings. This poster was printed during World
War I to encourage French citizens to buy war bonds. The
bottom right inscription urges, "Subscribe to hasten peace
Paul Albert Besnar.
Souscrivez pour Hâter la Paix par la Victoire.
3e Emprunt de la Défense Nationale.
Paris : Maquet Gr., 1917.
Prints and Photographs Division (9)
Gramota--put' k kommunizmu
(Literacy--the Path to Communism).
Photo-mechanical print with halftone color.
Prints and Photographs Division (10)
This winged horse employed by the Soviet
Union in 1920 to encourage mass education with the slogan, "Literacy--the
Path to Communism" is a variation of Pegasus. The torch-bearing
young man holding an open book and riding a powerful steed
soaring high above the city is an image designed to inspire.
Linking communist ideology to the winged, immortal horse
of Greek mythology aligns that political doctrine with an
easily understandable and very potent idea--that to fly is
to dominate, to conquer.
The image of a person traveling on a flying
carpet to an adventure became part of Western folklore after
the first European translations of The Thousand and One
Nights, a compilation of stories derived from Persian,
Arabic, and Indian sources. Here, the renowned illustrator
and author, Marcia Brown (b. 1918) retells one of the best-known
folktales. References to magic or flying carpets are found
in each the Egyptian and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as
well as in the Hindu epic poem, Samarangana Sutradhara.
Library does not have permission
to display this image online.
The Flying Carpet.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956.
Rare Book and Special Collections
[Phaeton in Chariot] in Dante Alighieri.
Venice: Petrus de Plasis, 1491.
Rare Book and Special Collections
DANTE'S SUN CHARIOT
In Dante's Inferno, the author
rides into the circles of Hell and likens his journey to
that of Phaeton, the mortal son of the Greek god Helios,
who drove the chariot of the Sun across the sky every day.
When Helios agreed to let his son take the reins, the horses
proved too much for Phaeton to control. The chariot came
too close to earth, scorching everything in its path. Realizing
that the world was in danger, the god Zeus killed Phaeton.
In Dante's view, Phaeton suffered the consequences of attempting
to surpass human limits.
Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty,
is depicted in this late fifteenth-century book as having
wings. Although rarely portrayed as winged, as a daughter
of Jupiter, Venus was a powerful goddess and therefore capable
of flight. This image was one of more than 100 woodcuts carved
by the young Albrecht Dürer to illustrate human vices
and follies for the moralistic poem, called Das Narrenschiff or The
Ship of Fools, written by the German humanist Sebastian
in Sebastian Brant.
Basel: Johann Bergmann, de Olpe, 1494.
Woodcut. Rosenwald Collection,
Rare Book and Special
Collections Division (13.1)
William Blake. [Winged Time] in Edward
The Complaint, and the Consolation, or, Night Thoughts.
London: R. Noble for R. Edwards, 1797.
Hand-colored engraving. Rosenwald Collection,
Rare Book and Special
Collections Division (21)
On these pages, the English poet and illustrator,
William Blake, depicts the personification of "Time" as having
wings. On the left page, Time has his traditional scythe
and conceals his wings as he creeps stealthily toward the
viewer. On the right, Time has passed us, unfurling his wings
as he goes on about his endless journey. Blake uses powerful
imagery to interpret the words of the poet Edward Young,
whose poem has been described as a Christian apologetic inspired
by the deaths of Young's wife, step-daughter, and son-in-law.
Flying remained an unattainable dream into the
Renaissance when the human need to know and to understand nature
was awakened. As the epitome of the Renaissance man, Leonard da Vinci
serves as the transition between what was imagined and the more experiential
attempts to achieve human flight. Da Vinci applied a scientific approach
to the problem, analyzing bird flight and conducting experiments
dealing with air resistance and control. His efforts presaged the
methods of the seventeenth century and its scientific revolution.
DA VINCI'S FLYING MACHINES
Among the nearly 5,000 pages of notes made
by the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) are
designs for flying machines. They include a pyramidal parachute,
a model helicopter, and several flapping-wing devices. The
latter were inspired by da Vinci's long study of birds. Although
his work should mark him as a pioneer of flight, Leonardo left
his manuscripts to a friend who never made them public. Only
in the late nineteenth century did the world begin to appreciate
his scientific approach to aeronautics.
I Manoscritti di Leonardo
da Vinci Sul Volo degli
Uccelli e Varie Altre Materie.
Paris: E. Rouveyre, 1893.
General Collections (22.1)
Louis Guillaume de La Follie.
La philosophe sans pretention.
Paris: Clousier, 1775.
Rare Book and Special Collections
EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY SCIENCE FICTION
In this book, a strange machine brings a
visitor to earth from the planet Mercury. This fictional flying
contraption is said to be powered by static electricity, produced
when its two glass globes are rubbed with camphor covered with
gold leaf as they turn on a platform. The powerful light changed
the pressure of the air and enabled the alien operator to navigate.
La Follie's electric motor is probably based on the fricitional
machines of his time, which generated small electrical charges.
More than a century before the Montgolfiers'
successful demonstration of the hot-air balloon, Francesco
Lana Terzi (1631-1687), a priest and professor of mathematics
in Ferrara, Italy, advanced the concept of a lighter-than-air
vehicle. Based on earlier studies of atmospheric pressure and
vacuum, Lana Terzi describes an airship that would be raised
by four spheres of wafer-thin copper from which the air had
been evacuated. Although an impractical idea, it contained
at least a germ of scientific truth.
Francesco Lana Terzi.
Prodromo: Overo, Saggio di alcune inventioni
premesso all'Arte maestra.
Brescia: Rizzardi, 1670.
Rare Book and Special Collections
Versailles le 19 sept. 1783.
Hand-colored etching, 1783.
Prints and Photographs Division (29)
ANIMALS IN TEST FLIGHT
To see if the upper atmosphere would sustain
life, on September 19, 1783, Joseph (1740-1810) and Etienne
(1745-1799) Montgolfier sent aloft a rooster, a sheep, and
a duck in a balloon they designed. Released at Versailles before
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the hot-air balloon soared
to about 1,700 feet before landing safely two miles away with
all aboard still alive. One of the first to reach the cage
was Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, who would
become the first man to fly, and later to die, in a balloon.
Hot Air Balloons
The attempt to conquer nature through science led to a growing body of
both serious and imaginative literature regarding flight, setting the stage
for the first successful aeronautical idea--the concept of lighter-than-air flight. The display briefly reviews the history of balloons culminating in the Montgolfier brothers’ successful manned ascent at Versailles in 1783, witnessed by Benjamin Franklin. The dream was still only partially realized since, as Benjamin Franklin presciently remarked, these great bags of gas and their airship successors “must always be subject to be driven by the Winds . . . .” In
short, balloons could rise, but horizontal flight was not in their control.
THE MONTGOLFIER BROTHERS' HOT-AIR BALLOON
The first manned balloon flight, in a Montgolfier
designed hot-air balloon on November 21, 1783, lasted twenty-five
minutes and landed about five-and-one-half miles from the Paris
site where it started. The volunteer "aeronauts" were Jean-François
Pilâtre de Rozier (1757-1785) and the Marquis d'Arlandes
(1742-1809). Benjamin Franklin was among the spectators. In
a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society
of London, Franklin presciently observes the lack of navigational
control, saying, "These Machines must always . . . be driven
by the Winds. Perhaps Mechanic Art may find easy means to give
them progressive Motion."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
to Sir Joseph Banks
(1743-1820), November 21, 1783.
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Manuscript Division (30)
Premier Voyage Aerien . . . sous la direction
de Mr. Montgolfier . . . , 1783.
Prints and Photographs Division (108)
CHARLES'S AND ROBERT'S HYDROGEN
Less than two weeks after the ground-breaking
Montgolfier flight, the French physicist Jacques Alexandre
César Charles (1746-1823) and M.N. Robert (1758-1820)
made the first untethered ascension with a gas (hydrogen) balloon.
Charles combined his expertise in making hydrogen with Robert's
new method of coating silk with rubber. The "Charlière" exceeded
the earlier Montgolfier hot-air balloon in time in the air
and distance traveled. With its wicker gondola, netting, and
valve-and-ballast system, it became the definitive form of
the hydrogen balloon for the next 200 years. The throng in
the Tuileries Gardens was reported as 400,000--half the population
Expérience du globe aerostatique
du MM. Charles et Robert au Jardin des Thuileries le 1er décembre
Paris: Chez Esnauts et Rapilly . . . , 1783.
Prints and Photographs Division (31)
J. A. C. Charles.
Memoire de M. Charles
sur L'aerostatique," ca.
Manuscript Division (32)
FIRST AERONAUTICAL FATALITIES
This engraving commemorates the tragic
deaths on June 15, 1785 of Pierre Romain and Jean-François
de Rozier, who was both the first to fly and to die in a
balloon. Using a dangerous combination of hot-air and hydrogen
proved fatal to the pair, whose dramatic crash before a large
crowd only temporarily dampened the balloon mania sweeping
France in the late eighteenth century. The album shows a
tiny swatch from the ill-fated balloon as part of a collection
of "echantillons" or sample pieces of fabric collected by
the nineteenth-century balloonists and aeronautical historians,
Albert (1836-1906) and Gaston (1843-1899) Tissandier.
Balloon fragment from first
flight, June 15, 1785.
Manuscript Division (34)
Mort de Pilâtre de Rosier [Rozier]
et de Romain. . . .
Boulogne, France: ca. 1785-1820.
Prints and Photographs Division (35)
Premier descent en parachute,
Gouache and watercolor.
Prints and Photographs Division (107)
FIRST PARACHUTE DESCENT
The first successful parachute descent from
a balloon was made by Frenchman André Jacques Garnerin
(1770-1823) in Paris on October 22, 1797. When opened, the
parachute resembled a huge umbrella about thirty feet in diameter.
It was made of canvas and was attached to a hydrogen balloon,
shown streaming away at the left in this copy of a well-known
painting by Etienne Chevalier de Lorimier. After being released
at 3,000 feet, the parachute swung violently side-to-side because
the canvas could not "spill the wind," allowing air to pass
BLANCHARD'S HYDROGEN BALLOON
Little more than three months after the
first manned balloon flight, Jean Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809)
designed a hydrogen balloon with flapping devices to control
its flight. The bold, self-promoting Blanchard soon moved to
England, where he became the darling of a small group of enthusiasts,
including Boston physician, John Jeffries. Jeffries offered
to pay for what became the first flight across the English
Channel. Here the pair approaches France on January 7, 1785.
Jeffries later wrote that they sank so low that they threw
everything overboard including most of their clothing, arriving
safely on land "almost naked as the trees."
Mr. Blanchard . . . est parti
de Douvres. . . , 1785.
Prints and Photographs Division (109)
W. Walton, printer.
The First Carrieage, the "Ariel."
Ackerman & Co., 1843.
Prints and Photographs Division (110)
AERIAL STEAM CARRIAGE
In this fanciful view published in 1843,
the "Aerial" flies over the Egyptian pyramids and
looks surprisingly like an early twentieth-century monoplane.
Conceived and designed by William Samuel Henson, this design
looks as if it actually could have flown. Although unable to
fly for various technical reasons, it can be considered the
first rational expression of a powered, heavier-than-air machine.
Henson is also credited with introducing the modern notion
of the pusher propeller.
Lighter Than Air
The Tissandier brothers were balloonists,
who made many ascents and documented their travels in writing
and illustrations. Gaston (1843-1899), a writer, and Albert
(1839-1906), an illustrator, worked together to develop a design
for an electric-powered airship in 1885. Albert made this drawing
of their balloon called Zénith and the spectacular
lunar halo and luminescent cross they observed on a March 1875
Attributed to Albert Tissandier.
[Lunar halo and luminescent cross observed during
the balloon Zénith's long distance flight from Paris to Arcachon
in March, 1875.]
Drawing on blue paper: ink wash, lead white, and graphite.
Prints and Photographs Division.
[Collecting cards with pictures of events in ballooning
history from 1783 to 1846.]
Paris: Romanet & cie., imp. Edit [between 1890 and 1900].
Prints and Photographs Division (116)
BALLOON COLLECTING CARDS
By the mid-nineteenth century, balloons
were a common sight in Europe. They were especially popular
in France because ballooning was thought to be born there.
Therefore, it is not surprising that there existed a demand
for commemorative cards in late-nineteenth-century France.
This sheet of ten uncut cards, each individually captioned
and numbered, shows color images of dramatic events in ballooning
history from 1783 to 1846.
This lithograph of a balloon in the colors
of the French flag was signed by the French professional
balloonist Jules Duruof on June 6, 1874--little more than
a year after he and his wife were rescued at sea. When the
mayor forbade his ascent because of threatening weather,
the crowd questioned his courage. Saying, "Let us show then
that we are not afraid to die," Duruof and his wife disappeared
into the darkness above a stormy sea and were given up for
lost. News of their rescue was cheered by all.
Le tricolore. - Page
Paris: Imp. E. Hamelin rue Fontaine au roi 59, 1874.
Prints and Photographs Division (117)
Achievements and Sacrifices
Realizing the dream of flight by achieving powered, sustained, and
controlled flight in a heavier-than-air machine would prove difficult
and costly. The exhibition briefly surveys those experimenters and
achievers of the nineteenth century who paved the way for the Wrights.
These included the English pioneer of aerodynamics, Sir George Cayley;
the German gliding pioneer, Otto Lilienthal, who plunged to his death
during an unsuccessful glide; and the French-American engineer, Octave
Chanute. Their efforts culminated in the Wrights' successful flights
on a wind-swept dune in North Carolina in 1903.
Dirigibles and Gliders
ON AERIAL NAVIGATION
During 1809 and 1810, the brilliant English
engineer George Cayley (1773-1857) laid the foundation for
what would be called "aeronautical engineering." Caley published
several articles that mark the first steps toward heavier-than-air
flight. He realized that the main problem for achieving flight
lay in making "a surface support a given weight by the application
of power to the resistance of air." In 1843, Cayley designed
an "aerial carriage" that featured rotating blades that could
be converted into fixed wings for forward flight.
Sir George Cayley's Aerial Carriage,"
in Mechanics' Magazine, April 8, 1843.
General Collections (36)
Early balloons were not truly navigable.
Attempts to improve maneuverability included elongating the
balloon's shape and using a powered screw to push it through
the air. Thus the airship or dirigible--a lighter-than-air
craft with propulsion and steering systems--was born. Credit
for the construction of the first navigable airship belongs
to French engineer, Henri Giffard, who, in 1852, attached
a small, steam-powered engine to a huge propeller and chugged
through the air for seventeen miles at a top speed of five
miles per hour.
Aerostat a Vapeur de M.
(Expérience de 25 septembre 1852).
Manuscript Division (37)
[Drawing of dirigibles].
Pencil on paper, ca. 1852.
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3 - Page 4
Manuscript Division (38)
THE PROBLEM OF MANFLIGHT
Full-scale gliding began with Otto Lilienthal,
whose daring glides offered inspiring evidence that mechanical
flight was possible. This early publication features Lilienthal
on the cover and was part of the small aeronautical library
that the Wrights assembled in the years before they actively
took up the problem of flight. Written by a wealthy American
manufacturer, James Means, this work presents the great Lilienthal
as a model to emulate and seeks to encourage others to follow
The Problem of Manflight.
Boston, Massachusetts: W.B. Clark & Co., 1894.
Manuscript Division (111)
Der Vogelflug als Grundlage de Fliegekunst.
Munich and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1910.
Rare Book and Special Collections
Published originally in Berlin in 1889,
Otto Lilienthal's The Flight of Birds as the Basis for
the Art of Flying eventually came out in this enlarged
edition and included an account of his aerial experiments.
As a young boy, Lilienthal became obsessed with the idea of
flight. As an adult, his main experimental goal was to learn
which natural wing shapes would serve him best. He built several
gliders, making more than 2,000 glides. When he was killed
in a crash on August 9, 1896, he was already planning to attempt
a powered flight.
As a devoted student of aeronautical history
and author of the first factual history of man's attempt to
fly, the French-born American engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910)
was also a vigorous experimenter. Having designed gliders in
1896, Chanute took his biplane and triplane gliders to the
dunes on Lake Michigan, where they were flown experimentally
by his protégés. Chanute was the first person
to whom Wilbur Wright revealed his hopes and plans for solving
the problem of manned flight.
Photographs of Chanute glider being flown
over dunes on Lake Michigan, 1896.
Manuscript Division (39)