Barthélemy Faujas-de-Saint-Fond, a French geologist, paleontologist, and scientific traveler, was born May 17, 1741. Faujas wrote a large folio on the extinct volcanoes of central France, which we included in our 2004 exhibition, Vulcan’s Forge, and an equally large folio about a fossil found in Maastricht, Holland, which Faujas thought was a crocodile, but was later shown to be an extinct mosasaur, and which we displayed in our 2009 exhibition, The Grandeur of Life.
Today we feature something different. In 1783, all of Paris was abuzz with preparations by the Montgolfier brothers to attempt the first successful flight of a manned balloon, and Faujas was right in the middle of the fervor, publishing the very first account of the earliest attempts, Description des expériences de la machine aérostatique de MM. de Montgolfier, in two volumes (1783-84). The first volume described the first ascent of a Montgolfier brothers’ balloon on Sep. 19, 1783, a dramatic affair in which the passengers were a rooster, a sheep, and a duck (first image). Faujas also gave us a close-up view of the wallpaper skin of a balloon that was used for an Oct. 19 ascent (second image), and illustrated the filling of a hydrogen balloon for Jacques-Alexandre Charles (third image), a dangerous procedure we described more vividly when Charles was our Scientist of the Day.
The second volume describes and illustrates the first manned ascent of Nov. 21, 1783, with Pilâtre de Rozier and Francois d’Arlandes on board (fourth image); the first manned ascent of a hydrogen balloon on Dec. 1 (fifth image); and a Montgolfier ascent of Jan. 19, 1784 (sixth image). Faujas also showed a new and improved way of filling a hydrogen balloon, using 10 double-barrels instead of one, and moving the red-hot, acid-filled barrels away from the vicinity of the balloon fabric, but it does not seem that much safer to us (seventh image).
Some copies of Faujas’ Description are colored, which makes the balloons especially dramatic, but our uncolored copy is in beautiful condition, with half-morocco/half marbled-paper boards (eighth image), and we are happy to have it.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.