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Introduction to the Agricultural Revolution

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Introduction to the First Industrial Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution Index

William Murdock and the Gas Industry
Sir Humphry Davy
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The Development of Communications
Samuel Breese Morse
Guglielmo Marconi
Urbanisation and Public Transport
The Motor Industry
The Industrial Revolution and Warfare

History Chapters Main Index


Leonardo da Vinci's "flying machine"

Leonardo da Vinci's "flying machine"


Joseph-Michel Montgolfier (1740 - 1810) and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier (1745-1799)

Poster celebrating a balloon flight

Poster celebrating a balloon flight

The Montgolfier brothers were paper makers who became interested in hot air balloons when they discovered that the smoke from a fire caused a piece of silk paper to rise. Their first hot air balloon, launched on 4 June 1783, rose 1000 meters into the air, where it stayed for ten minutes.

On 19 September 1783 they launched an untethered balloon from Versailles. Their balloon carried three animal passengers and floated an average of two and a half meters above the ground, travelling a distance of 3,2 kilometers. On 21 November 1783 the brothers launched the first flight from the Chateau de la Muette. This flight carried its three passengers at an average of eight meters above the ground over the Blois de Bologne for 9 kilometers.



Jacques-Alexandre-César Charles (1746 - 1823)

Jacques-Alexandre-César Charles

Charles was a French mathematician and physicist. He started his career as a clerk in the Ministry of Finance but his interest in science soon dominated his working life. He developed the hydrometer and made improvements to Fahrenheit's anometer.

Charles is probably best known for his work on gases. He was one of the first to ascend in a hydrogen balloon in 1783. He made several flights and reached a height of around one and a half kilometers ijn altitude. In 1787 Charles developed his famous gas law which related the thermal expansion of gases. He was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1795.


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The Second Industrial Revolution

The Development of Flight

The development of the internal combustion engine gave inventors the spur they needed to realise one of man's oldest dreams - to construct a flying machine. The search for a method of carrying man into the clouds had begun long before. There had been two approaches to the problem, constructing machines which were either lighter than air or machines which were heavier than air.

Designs for heavier than air flying machines dated back centuries. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci had drawn and made models of machines which, he believed, would propel a man into the sky. However, the early designers had all made the fundamental mistake of trying to imitate birds. All of the early ideas were centered on flexible wings that, in order to get off the ground, needed to be flapped by human muscle power. It was eventually proved that the human body cannot provide enough power to take off from the ground using flexible wings, and a great deal of time had been wasted by following this path. In fact, man first took to the air, not on wings in a heavier than air machine, but in a lighter than air machine.

The first manned flight took place as a result of experiments carried out in France by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. They found that when a thin silk bag was held over the hot, smoky air from a fire, the bag would float to the ceiling. The Montgolfier brothers mistakenly believed that it was the smoke that gave lift to the bag. They went on to build a balloon and, in September 1783, demonstrated its flight to the French King. The balloon carried a sheep, a duck and a chicken into the air! Following this successful flight, a larger balloon was built. This time two men, Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, Marquis d'Arlandes, were the first to fly upwards from the Bois de Boulogne.

Meanwhile other inventors had been working on different ways to lift man into the air. In 1766, the British scientist, Henry Cavendish, had discovered hydrogen, a gas which was lighter than air. The Montgolfier balloon had created intense curiosity and interest in France, and French physicist, Jacques-Alexandre-César Charles, working with the brothers Anne-Jean Robert and Nicolas-Louis Roberts, decided to use hydrogen in a balloon. After the successful flight of their first hydrogen balloon, the team decided to build a larger one which would carry three men. On the 1st December 1783, they took to the air and flew for two hours, twenty three minutes longer than the Montgolfier brothers' hot air balloon had flown.

These early flights caused world-wide interest and ballooning developed right through into the twentieth century. During this period, however, although it had become possible to fly, it was not possible to direct the flight of the balloon. The balloon was destined to go in whatever direction the wind took it.


From Balloon to Airship

Experiments with hydrogen balloons showed that they needed to be cigar-shaped and have a power source to steer them. Early attempts in powered balloon flights used oars, paddle wheels, clockwork and even steam power (in spite of the risks!). In 1852, Henri Giffard built a cigar-shaped airship powered by a steam engine. He successfully demonstrated that a balloon could be steered and so laid down the principles of the airship.

 The German Zeppelin

The German Zeppelin


Airship development continued and, by 1900, the internal combustion engine had been adapted for use in flight. Airship designs became larger and more efficient, culminating in the rigid framed airship designs of Graf von Zeppelin of Germany before and after World War I. These designs were further developed into the 1930's by Italy, France and Britain.


Heavier than Air Machines

If we look at the history of heavier than air machines, that is gliders and aeroplanes, then the obvious starting point is the man who can truly be called the "Father of the Aeroplane". Sir George Cayley made his experimental glider flights in Britain in the 1800's. He laid down the practical designs that were to be developed into powered flight. Unfortunately for Cayley, a suitable machine capable of producing the power to fly an aircraft, in this case the internal combustion engine, was not developed until the end of the 19th century.

A prototype glider

A prototype glider


Attempts were made toproduce powered flight with the aid of steam machines. The most successful of these was made by the Frenchman Clement Ader. He built a bat-winged monoplane, named Eole, which flew for fifty metres. Ader's experiment was based upon the groundwork of men such as Cayley and Otto Lilienthal of Germany who had been brave enough to fly in their experimental gliders and, in so doing, proved that heavier than air flying machines were feasible.



Orville Wright

Wilbur Wright

Orville Wright

Wilbur Wright


It was in America that Orville and Wilbur Wright built and flew the first successful aeroplane, powered by an internal combustion engine, in 1903. Their success stimulated aircraft development and, by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the aircraft had advanced to the point where it could be developed as a weapon of war.


The Wright brothers' first flight

The Wright brothers' first flight


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