In some moment of rest or recreation in the open air, every one must have looked into the blue sky, seen the snowy masses of cloud, and wondered to what unknown haven they were drifting. For me, the study of the sky and the weather has an irresistible fascination. In my youth, I watched the clouds with eager interest; and in my manhood, I have spent many years in observing and pondering over the meanings of their various shapes and motions, because I believe they hold secrets of great interest to the human race. Stop the vast flow of invisible vapor of which the cloud is but a visible symbol, and within a single year every wheel of industry would cease to turn, and our own busy land would be as silent and tenantless as the great Sahara; the summer sun would no more woo the fields to verdure; and the trees of our groves and forests would be but bare and lifeless trunks. Fortunately, no such grand catastrophe is likely to occur; but the variations of rainfall from month to month, and year to year, have a very great influence on our lives and comfort; and a knowledge of the laws of these changes will aid much in increasing the good, and decreasing the evil of their effects. I have hoped to aid in wrestling these secrets from nature; but the study of the clouds has also had for me another interest, because I believe that the air is one day to be the highway of human travel, and a knowledge of its currents will aid in making its navigation safe and rapid.
The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, with which I am connected, has won a place among the leading observatories of the world for its researches concerning the conditions of the upper air, and the director, Professor A. Lawrence Rotch, is widely known in Europe. For this reason, when the interested aeronauts of the great nations of Europe began to make arrangements for the first international balloon contest, to be held in America, naturally they sought information from the observatory in regard to the conditions likely to be met here. All the contestants had studied the problem of the balloon and its equipment, and had provided themselves with the best balloons and instruments that the present state of the art permits. The pilots were all experienced men, and all had given much thought to the use of favorable air-currents in ballooning. The Germans, particularly appreciative of scientific knowledge and the advantages of expert advice, invited the director of the Blue Hill Observatory to go as aide in one of their balloons. Not finding it convenient to go himself, the director asked me to represent the observatory in this voyage. And so it happened that I was to undertake to map out the best air-currents for a balloon to take, in order to reach the greatest distance from its starting-point at St. Louis, and to put into actual practice what I had often planned in imagination.
Provided with heavy wraps for the balloon voyage, I arrived at St. Louis on October 20, the morning before the race. Already the air was full of eager preparation and expectancy. The newspapers contained full accounts of receptions given to the visiting aeronauts, pungent paragraphs concerning the characteristics of the individuals, and vivid descriptions of the preliminary trial trips in the balloons. Most of the aeronauts had come from far distant lands, and some of them had only a limited command of English. Under the inspiration of the Aero Club of St. Louis, many thousands of dollars had been contributed toward the promotion of this unique race; a section of the city’s gas-plant had been reserved for the purpose of making a light gas especially for the balloons, and about three hundred soldiers had been detailed from the United States Army to aid in protecting and launching the balloons. All this careful preparation assured the filling and dispatching of the balloons with exemplary promptness. On the afternoon of my arrival, I was called to meet the officials conducting the race and the contestants for the prize. At this meeting, the rules of the contest were discussed and agreed upon. It was decided that whenever any contestant came to the ground voluntarily and landed, the race was over for him; he would not be allowed to rise again; but much discussion arose in regard to the time that might be given for a contestant to free himself if his trail-rope became entangled with objects below. It was agreed that fifteen minutes were to be allowed in case of such an accident, at the end of which time, if he had not freed himself, he was to be considered as having landed. It was decided that the distance should be measured in a straight line from St. Louis to the point of landing.
The morning of the race found me busy in aiding my German friends in the preparation of the balloons for a start. All the balloons were spread out, each on a large sheet of canvas, with the valve uppermost and the mouth next the gas-main. Next, the various liens were attached: first, a line for operating the valve and allowing the gas to escape when necessary; second, a line for ripping open the top of the balloon and thus letting out all the gas at once. This line was to be used only at the moment of landing. Its employment is comparatively new, and it is one of the most useful of the various devices for rendering ballooning safe. So secure did the pilot of our balloon, the Pommern, feel in its use that the anchor usually carried was dispensed with.
In order to place these ropes properly, a man had to crawl down through the empty balloon and come out at its mouth. After the arrangement of these details, the net to which the basket is attached when in place was quickly spread over the balloon under the skillful guidance of our pilot, Mr. Erbsloch.
Before noon, all the balloons were ready to receive the supply of gas which was to carry them aloft, and within less than two hours afterward, the gas-main being connected with all the balloons simultaneously, they became swelling globes, some twenty-five or thirty feet in diameter, towering above the ground and gently oscillating in the breeze.
As a check on the movements of the contestants and to provide material for a study of the race afterward, the Aero Club at St. Louis gave each contestant a sealed, self-recording barometer, which traced on a sheet every movement of the balloon in a vertical direction, and thus showed at what height it was sailing at each moment in its course, making it impossible for any contestant to descend to earth without a record of the event. These packages were placed in the baskets of the balloons by the judges themselves, with instructions that they were to be returned with the seal unbroken immediately after landing.
In addition to these instruments we had recording barometers of our own, thermometers of a delicate kind for recording temperature, and compasses of various sizes and shapes. In use, the thermometers are whirled outside of the basket of the balloon as far as one can reach, in order that the temperature may be obtained away the balloon and not be affected by the temperature of the observers’ bodies.
The rules of the contest were that the balloons should ascend following one another in rapid succession. That in which I was to aid and of which Oscar Erbsloeh was the pilot, was assigned by lot the first place in the list. We were provided with red envelopes by the committee, with instructions to throw them overboard at the end of each two hours and as near as possible to towns, so that they might more readily be found. We also had a number of blanks placed in envelopes addressed to various newspapers, which we were requested to fill out and throw overboard, giving our position and speed at the time.
Before all this preparation was complete, throngs had begun to gather to see the race. Nearly an hour before the time of our departure, the streets immediately around the balloon-field were dense with people. During this last hour, crowds came streaming in from every direction. All the surrounding towns and cities contributed to the gathering, and some sight-seers had come from as far as Boston and New York. Before the ascent of the first balloon, every seat on the stands erected for ticket-holders was taken, and a crowd, estimated by the newspapers at 300,000, surrounded the field of operations to witness the first race of this kind ever held in America.
Five minutes before the time of starting, Mr. Glidden, the time-keeper, began to call off the elapsing minutes, and then during the last minute, the elapsing intervals of ten seconds. This was a hurried period of final preparation; sand-bags for ballast were hung all around our basket, which was the smallest of the nine, until its dimensions seemed nearly doubled. Finally, after several bags of ballast had been added and removed, the balance was adjusted so as to give only a slight excess of lift, and the Pommern was ready to carry Mr. Erbsloeh and myself on our long journey. A few seconds after four o’clock the order to depart was given. We grasped the hands of our friends in a final farewell, the restraining hands of the soldiers were removed, and slowly the earth began to recede from us. A wild, tumultuous cheer burst from the waiting thousands and I waved my hat in return to the waving hats and handkerchiefs below. The balloon was rising and moving northward without the slightest jar or jolt, such as one ordinarily associates with motion, and it was difficult to realize that we were not stationary and the world spinning beneath us. Soon the great city of St. Louis lay spread out below us as on a map. The houses and street-cars looked like toys and the men like creeping ants.
The upper currents of the atmosphere in the United States almost always move toward some point between northeast and southeast, usually nearly east. We had discussed our course the previous evening at dinner, and Mr. Erbsloeh, deferring to my opinion about the best current to take, agreed to seek this upper current immediately after leaving St. Louis, and to make directly for the Atlantic coast, going south of the lake region. We wished to reach the coast as far north as possible, because in that direction the land stretched to the greatest distance from St. Louis, and it was agreed that we should ascend or descend as was necessary during the voyage in order to find favoring currents. About half an hour before the ascent of our balloon, one of the small sounding balloons which were then being liberated daily from St. Louis by Mr. S. P. Fergusson for Professor Rotch, was set free, somewhat in advance of the usual hour, for the purpose of aiding the balloonists. The air-currents near the earth’s surface were toward the north, or northwest; but this small balloon showed that the eastward upper current which we sought to be found at a height of about one mile and a half, and throwing out sufficient ballast, we rose at once to find it. This manœuvre rendered our balloon one of the most conspicuous in the race, as is shown by the following remarks form the St. Louis Republic on the morning following the race: —
“The Pommern first, and then the America, made the brightest marks in the sky. Experts said the Anjou held the most gas, but the German far and away was the most conspicuous in the heavens. High and far she soared, and far and high went the others, but always was the Pommern the most majestic. Long after the businesslike United States had swept out of sight, lost in the murk of haze to the northwest, the pride of the Teutons hung a sapphire sun in an opalescent sky, high in the north. ‘It is magnificent, but not good ballooning,” said a veteran; ‘the others are sailing lower and making more distance.’ Nevertheless was the Pommern a sight good for the eye.”
This remark of the veteran, confirmed by all the experts with whom I have discussed the matter since, showed that Mr. Erbsloeh, with the audacity of youth and confidence in his ability as a balloonist, and I, with the audacity of my ignorance of ballooning, but desirous of utilizing the air-currents to the best advantage, had broken the tradition of long-distance ballooning, which is to keep near the earth, at least during the first night out. At the height of about a mile and a quarter, we found a current moving toward the northeast with a speed of about twenty-two miles an hour. Here the ascent of the balloon was checked, and at this level we prepared to spend the night. It was now past sunset. In finding our course, we had crossed the lower Missouri near the city of Alton, Illinois. The sun had set in a deep haze, a glowing ball of fire, but the adjustments necessary to beginning our journey had prevented much note of this, our first sunset. It was about six P.M. when we passed the twin cities of Alton and Upper Alton, their brilliant electric lights sparkling in the gathering dusk, like swarms of fireflies on a summer evening.
We watched these glowing lights amid a silence more profound than any I have ever known. After we left St. Louis, the roar of the city sank to a soft murmur, and then ceased, and now not a sound was to be heard, not even the rustle of the wind, because we were moving with the wind and hence in a dead calm. One often speaks of “the silent wood,” but in the midst of the wood are heard the rustlings of the leaves and the myriad voices of nature; only in a balloon far above the earth is absolute silence to be found, a silence as of death. Onward we drifted through the night, past the twinkling lights of various towns, and the scenery below us, bathed in the mellow moonlight, was like a fairy land of toy gardens and glistening brooks.
As we passed over towns, we threw overboard the notices provided for giving the press information of our progress. In order to cause these notices to be more easily found, I bought a number of small rubber balloons from a peddler on the ground, and at the appointed time a package of notices was attached to one of them and it was set free. The balloon, thus weighted, descended rapidly, and I thought it would serve to attract the attention of any one who passed near it after it had reached the earth. However, I have as yet no knowledge whether or not this device assisted in the finding of our notices.
About 3 A.M., the brilliant lights of a large city brightened the haze of the lower air like a coming dawn. This was Lafayette, Indiana, and we were soon passing over its northern suburbs, now wrapped in profound slumber. The throbbing and whistling of locomotives which reached our ears, showed, however, that all was not dead, but that even in the dead of night some life was astir to carry on the activities of a busy world. Here we crossed the Wabash, moving softly toward the southwest, and soon afterward we had an adventure often enjoyed by balloonists, that of a race with a locomotive, in which, I regret to say, the locomotive won. It was evidently a swift midnight express for the east, and when our courses finally diverged, the train was already several miles ahead of us.
The balloon had now sunk to within three-fourths of a mile of the earth’s surface, and we first became aware of approaching dawn, not by the appearance of the sky, but by the awakening life below. There came to our ears out of the depths, first the faint, shrill bugle-calls of chanticleers, then the barking of dogs, and finally the soft, muffled rumble of a wagon on its early trip to the city. As if not to disappoint the expectant life below, there soon appeared a rosy flush on the eastern sky, and the whole heavens, both east and west, were then suffused with pink. The sunrise was not more brilliant than I seen below, but the unobstructed view in every direction and the strange surroundings gave it an unusual beauty. The landscape was now seen clearly for the first time, and there spread out below us a scene so picturesque that it is difficult to describe. We were crossing the headwaters of the Wabash, whose bed was covered with a broad river of fog far more beautiful than the river itself; while into it flowed similar streams of mist, and here and there a lakelet of fog in a basin between the hills reflected faintly, from the crests of its snowy billows, the colors of the rosy dawn.
While we were directly over the valley of the Wabash, an electric car, with glaring headlight, rushed along on its early morning trip, like some submarine monster at the bottom of a wide river of fog.
The cause of this fog is the great cooling of the surface of the earth by radiation. The air, more transparent than glass, is but little heated by day or cooled at night by radiation, so that, at heights exceeding a half mile, there is very little daily change in its temperature, and it is scarcely more than one degree warmer during the day than at night. On the other hand, the earth’s surface is much heated by day and much cooled at night, causing a large daily change in the temperature of the ground and in the air which comes in contact with the ground. This cooling of the lower air does not extend to a height of more than five hundred feet above level ground, so that a balloon floating along near that altitude is in air almost as warm as that of the day. As a consequence, balloonists like to seek this height, if there are not other reasons why it is desirable to go higher; because, except near the ground at night, the air grows colder as one goes higher, and at heights of five or six miles, the cold is more intense than that of the coldest part of the earth’s surface.
The balloon is like a little earth; it absorbs and radiates heat very powerfully. At night, the balloon is continuously cooling, and we had to throw out ballast at intervals to keep from sinking to the earth on account of the cooling and shrinking of the gas, as well as on account of a slow loss of gas through the envelope of the balloon. This ballast was in the form of little scoopfuls of sand taken from a bag.
On the other hand, when the sun rose that first morning, a dazzling, brilliant orb, the balloon was heated in a surprisingly few minutes. Its gas, expanding and growing lighter, caused us to ascend rapidly, and we were soon again at a height of about eight thousand feet. Had it not been for an opening at the bottom of the gas-bag, made for that purpose, the balloon would have ascended many miles, — in fact until the expanding gas burst the envelope asunder and allowed it to fall to earth a lifeless mass. I knew all this, but also I knew that many ears of experience had adapted the balloon to meet these demands, and I had not the slightest fear. In fact, I watched with intense pleasure the grand panorama unfolding in all its detail by the light of day. Apparently quite unconscious of our existence, the busy world of man awoke and began its daily routine. Its inhabitants were microbes, creeping along the ground, or riding noiseless on almost microscopic vehicles at a pace which seemed so slow that even a snail might envy it. How strange it all was! The whole visible world below was like a garden divided into innumerable plots of green and brown with the lines of small separation running always east and west, or north and south, and thus rendering the use of the compass unnecessary for obtaining directions. Those garden-plots were farms, broad acres in extent. The untamed rocks alone stood weirdly out from the general culture. So strange did they appear that it was not until I had consulted my companion that I felt sure these were indeed rocks, standing out like little, irregular, volcanic cones above the general level of the prairie. All day we were crossing the great state of Ohio, so splendidly cultivated as to be almost a garden, with hardly an interval of waste land from one end to the other. We passed over or near the cities of Dayton, Springfield, Columbus, Newark, and Zanesville. When we reached Columbus it was already past noon, and we were hungry. Reclining in our basket, and shielding ourselves as best we could from the sun, we ate our mid-day meal. At the height of two miles, the sun shines with a fierce intensity unknown below, where the dust and the denser air scatter the rays which, thus diffused, lose their intensity while illumining every nook and corner of our houses. At heights exceeding five miles, this diffused light is mostly gone and the sun shines a glowing ball, sharply outlined in a sky of which the blue is so dark as to approach blackness. At the outer limits of the atmosphere, the sun would appear a brilliant star of massive size among other stars; and if one stepped from its burning rays into shadow he would enter Egyptian darkness. At the height of a mile and a half, we found it necessary to shelter our faces to prevent sunburn, although the air around us was but little warmer than that of the previous night, being about forty-five degrees. As the afternoon wore on and the balloon began to cool and sink, we were obliged to throw out much sand, casting it away a scoopful at a time; and just after sunset, it was even necessary to empty two or three bags at once.
In preparation for a long trip in the air, I had provided myself with an instrument for taking latitude and longitude from the balloon in the same way that a ship determines its position at sea; but, owing to some error in observation and to unsatisfactory maps, we lost our bearing in eastern Ohio; and consequently, shortly after sunset, in order to make inquiries, we allowed our balloon to settle within about two hundred feet of the ground near a lonely farmhouse. The inhabitants of the farm did not see us until we were close upon them, and then consternation reigned supreme. In the barnyard, pigs, chickens, geese, and sheep rushed frantically in every direction for cover, hopping over and under one another, and turning every conceivable angle. The chickens had no doubt seen hawks before in their time, but a monster twenty-five feet in diameter probably baffled the imagination of the most daring of their tribe. In the midst of this commotion and noise, a woman appeared at the door of her house, and gazing motionless from wonder, fear, or other emotion, could not reply to our oft-repeated inquiry as to the name of the nearest town.
In a brief time we had swept past her little domain on to that of a farmer who responded to our inquiry by the query, “Where did you come from?” and then, “Where are you going?” Before we could get this matter settled to his satisfaction, we were out of hearing; and, passing over a small cluster of houses, we learned from some boys that we were over the town of Otsego. As my knowledge of geographical names had limits, and I was not quite sure whether we had yet passed out of Ohio into Pennsylvania, I asked what state the town was in. It took the boys some minutes to overcome the shock of their surprise that these wanderers in the air did not even know what state they were in. They evidently thought that we were in a state of supreme ignorance; but finally we learned that the town was in Ohio between Zanesville and Port Washington. Freeing ourselves from the boys, who had seized our trail-rope, we now rose several hundred feet, and continued our journey toward the northeast. Soon the sun set once more amid a brilliant glow of red. In the gathering dusk of the Ohio River was flowing beneath us grand and silent on its journey to the sea, but by a route far more indirect than that we sought. We crossed about twenty miles north of Wheeling, West Virginia. From out of the darkness below a voice came up to us with the familiar demand, “Where are you going?” and then in insistent repetition, “Where are you going?” I was considering whether I should say to New York or Boston, but reply was unnecessary, for, not getting an immediate response, he gave us a warm invitation to a much hotter and more wicked place than either of those I had in mind! It seemed a strange behest to an occupant of the skies, but it is said that even angels may fall.
At 7:20 P.M. we passed over the city of Pittsburg with its glowing furnaces and innumerable lights. Over all this region there was a tinge of smoke indicating the centre of the great coal industries, and making it difficult to see clearly the objects beneath us. I was much impressed by the weird beauty of these glowing furnaces as seen from above; and it did not occur to me to connect these and the smoky air with the invitation earlier in the evening until I related the incident to an audience of young men at a university a few weeks later. We were now traveling northeastward well along the path we had planned to follow from St. Louis. But we were approaching mountains with which neither of us was familiar, and as the balloon was now within a distance of about one thousand feet of the ground, it seemed desirable to rise in order to avoid becoming entangled in the forests on the mountain-side.
We threw over ballast, and rose to a height of about a mile. We were soon crossing the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains which showed dusky gray outlines in the moonlight, while between them lay black, abysmal valleys. There were suggestions of awful precipices and bottomless depths which made me shudder involuntarily as I looked into them, although up to that time I had felt as safe and as free from fear as if I had been taking a voyage on an ocean liner above the depths of the great ocean of water. About 2 A.M., we saw the brilliant lights of Harrisburg to the north, and passed directly over the city of Carlisle, where long lines of lights stretched at right angles to each other. We were now within about two thousand feet of the ground, and I listened for signs of life, but the sleeping city was as quiet as the dead. We crossed the Susquehanna River near the rapids at a height of less than one thousand feet, and could hear the gurgling murmur of the waters long before they came in view, and after they were lost to sight. We crossed a railroad-siding, where a puffing engine was waiting with a train of cars, and called through our megaphone, hoping to attract the notice of the engineer; but our voices were drowned by the hissing stream. Some factories, or foundries, were passed, where the wheels of industry evidently turn by night as well as by day, for we could hear the throb of engines and the voices of men.
Even before the first signs of dawn appeared in the east, we were hailed with a cheerful “Good-morning” by some early riser, and in response to our inquiries he informed us that we were then thirty-seven miles from Philadelphia, and moving directly toward that city. At this time and until we reached Philadelphia at sunrise, the air below us was entirely calm; fogs and mists filled the valleys and hollows, and there was not the slightest noise or rustle of the wind amid the trees. The air in which we floated was moving over the calm air below, as over a soft cushion, at a speed of about thirty miles an hour. So smoothly did we glide that a glass of water filled to the brim would not have spilled a drop. We were going with the speed of the wind, and not a breath of air rustled through the balloon. It was ideal traveling, — no smoke, no dust, no jar, no noise; we were out in the open, fresh, morning air at a comfortable temperature of about fifty-five degrees, and watching an unfolding panorama of surpassing beauty. We were approaching Philadelphia, over the suburban homes, flower-gardens, and beautiful estates of its wealthier citizens. Floating at a height of between five hundred and one thousand feet above the earth, we exchanged morning greetings and bits of information with people below, hearing them as distinctly as if only separated from them by the width of a street, so easily does sound travel upward to this height. We talked through a megaphone and were easily understood
As the balloon passed over a railway station where an early morning train had stopped, the passengers clambered out to see us, and I heard afterwards that it was with much difficulty the conductor got them in again, so as not to delay the train. Presently we crossed the Schuylkill, and then came a wilderness of factories with tall chimneys belching sparks. As the balloon was now within a few hundred feet of the earth, and there was a possibility of sparks reaching it, a small scoopful of ballast was thrown overboard, which sent us upward about fifty or a hundred feet. Some workmen, noticing this, supposed that we had thrown something at them—so I read afterward in a newspaper.
Before we had reached the centre of Philadelphia the warming rays of the rising sun touched the balloon, and we shot upward to a height slightly exceeding two miles, where the temperature was found to be a few tenths of a degree below the freezing point. This manœuvre of the balloon was in accordance with our wishes, because the ocean was now near, and if we were to continue our voyage, for which we had ample gas and provisions, it must be in the direction of New York and New England. The lower currents were moving east-northeast; but these would have carried us a little south of our desired goal, and we wished to know whether there might be a more favorable current within a reasonable distance of the earth’s surface. At the height of two miles, the State of New Jersey lay spread out below us like a map. Looking eastward we could see the bays and inlets of the shoreline for fully fifty miles on either hand, while the great ocean lay before us glistening in the morning sun with a silver sheen. We did not find a favorable current. It became evident that we must descend, and Mr. Erbsloeh requested me to pack everything secure because the balloon might strike the earth with a shock.
I pulled the valve-rope and down we came, two miles in a few minutes. When within several hundred yards of the earth’s surface, we emptied two bags of sand, checking the downward speed of the balloon; and a few additional scoopfuls of sand thrown overboard brought us into equilibrium within a short distance of the ground, over which we continued to glide rapidly toward the northeast, traversing the state of New Jersey diagonally in about an hour and a half. We crossed the head of a bay and could see the waves of ocean breaking on the shore beyond. It was high time to descend, and selecting an open place in the suburbs of Asbury Park, we opened our valve and approached the ground. Suddenly our flight was arrested. We had encountered some telegraph wires amid which the basket was entangled, while the great mass of the balloon above was tugging to free us. The emptying of two more bags of ballast, a combined push against the wires, and the balloon was free once more, ascending rapidly. It now became necessary to act quickly; the valve was reopened, and in addition, a small hole was torn in the side of the balloon with the ripping-cord. This was effective, and we touched the ground; then with a long vigorous pull of the ripping-cord, the balloon lay to the leeward of the basket, an empty bag, and the race was over. In forty hours we had traversed the greatest distance in a straight line ever traveled by a balloon in America, and had won the race. In an air line from St. Louis the distance in 872 miles; but in making this distance, since the course was not perfectly straight, we had traveled 932 miles at a speed varying between 17 and 31 miles an hour, and averaging 23.3 miles an hour. In all this distance, we had found it necessary to inquire as to our geographical position only once.
Although we had traveled this great distance there remained plenty of provisions, gas, and ballast for another day’s journey in the air. Out of the forty-one original bags of ballast we had twelve remaining, — a larger number, as it developed afterward, than any other constant.
Our first question to the people who immediately surrounded us was in regard to the latest news from the others in the race.
We were informed that the balloon United States had landed near Lake Ontario, but that the others were still in the air. We had no definite news of the others until late in the evening.
We were most hospitably received by the citizens of Asbury Park. The mayor made a speech extending to us a cordial welcome and giving us the freedom of the city. The leading citizens also provided us with an ample dinner. The news-gatherers came early, and after getting the information they wanted they left us to finish our journey in a more common-place manner, and seek a much-needed rest.
During the forty hours that we were in the air we lived in a basket two and a half by three feet. In these narrow quarters there was not much room for freedom of motion, yet neither of us felt greatly cramped for room, on account of the excitement and novelty of the voyage, and the fact that we were much engaged with the details of the management of the balloon and with the problem of keeping track of its course. This latter was accomplished by means of our instrument for determining latitude and longitude, and by means of maps which we carried, one for each state, plotted on a large scale. From these maps the names of the towns and rivers over which the balloon passed were determined by their appearance on the maps. We were also busied in trying to keep informed of the direction and speed of the air currents above and below us.
One of the methods which I devised for doing this was to suspend a small plumb-bob by a slender cord far below the basket of the balloon, and by another cord to suspend a very light silk banner. This banner swung nearly the same length below the basket as did the plumb-bob, and the slightest difference in the speed or direction of any current below the balloon, as far down as we could let this device, was determined by the swinging of the banner away from the bob. For finding the motion of currents farther below us we threw out light objects, such as pieces of paper, from the car, and watched their motion while descending. In this way we kept fairly well informed of the movements of the currents below us without having to waste our gas and ballast in ascending or descending. The determination of the motions of the currents above us was more difficult. But we were aided to some extent in doing this by the few clouds which we saw. On account of our own motion it was difficult to tell exactly in which directions the clouds were going; we could tell only whether they were moving to the right or left of the balloon. Plenty of exercise was obtained in drawing up the fifty-pound bags of ballast over the sides of the basket, where they were suspended from small rings, and afterward in throwing out the sand as it was needed in order to maintain our position in the air. There was no provision for sleep, but we ate our three regular meals in the air just as if we had been on the ground. There was no dressing for breakfast, or dinner, except to exchange our shoes for slippers, and to add or remove wraps, as the temperature demanded. For food we carried such provisions as rolls, mutton chops, mutton stew, fried chicken, eggs, crackers, and sausage. The last we did not taste. It was a concentrated food reserved in case the balloon might drop in some out-of-the-way place, as in the fastnesses of the mountains or in the wilds of Canada, where we would be several days in finding our way out to civilization. For drinks we carried some dozen or so bottles of Apollinaris water, a bottle of coffee, a bottle of tea, and two or three bottles of wine.
In order to supply the blood with the necessary oxygen, the heart beats automatically much more rapidly at great altitudes, where the air is rare, than it does at the earth’s surface, and for this reason it is not best to use stimulants. Already the brain is surcharged with blood and there is a feeling of exhilaration.
For bathing one of us would pour slowly on the hands of the other a bottle of Apollinaris water. This was an expensive bath, perhaps, but it answered the purpose admirably, serving for both water and soap, because the free carbon dioxide in the water acted as a cleansing agent.
After having been in the air so many hours, with the earth apparently swimming along beneath the balloon, that condition had come to seem the normal one, and, when we had landed, I felt for an hour as if something wrong had happened to the earth which lay so quiet and still beneath the feet.
* * *
In making the air a domain for human travel, the conquest of which seems almost in sight, a competitive race like this is a trial of methods, materials, and men to the utmost possibilities; and although the results of one race cannot settle the matter, the results of many races determine the best of these appliances and also open the door to new inventions and new methods. Another advantage of such a contest is that it adds much to our knowledge of the movements of the atmosphere. The various tracks followed by the balloons map out the motions of the air and enable the meteorologist to follow its spiral motion toward the storm centre and to note the daily waves of oscillation from side to side of the general course followed by the air.
In the distances traveled this balloon race from St. Louis proved to be one of the greatest ever undertaken. Seven of the nine contestants crossed the Alleghany Mountains and landed near the Atlantic coast, while one landed in the region of the Great Lakes about six hundred miles from the starting point.
This result is so impressive that it has aroused the imagination of the American people and set them wondering as to the possibilities of this novel method of navigation. Aero clubs have sprung into existence in almost every large city; the Signal Corps of our army is considering the building of several airships, and Congress will be asked for a large appropriation for further experiments; the officers of our navy are discussing the possibilities of launching flying machines from naval vessels, or of sending up men in captive balloons from the ships for the purpose of reconnoitring, and a horde of inventors are at work on improvements of present appliances and on new machines for navigating the air. It seems safe to predict that the next year or two will witness an enormous activity in this matter in America.
In Europe the question of navigating the air has been longer a matter of public interest, and there the balloon has been brought to its present state of development. There exist well-organized clubs for using the balloon in sport and in recreation, and ascents for this purpose are very frequent in summer. Elongated or cigar-shaped balloons have been devised and driven through the air with a speed increasing as light motors of great power have been invented, until now these elongated balloons navigate the air by their own power at velocities of twenty-five to thirty miles an hour, making long excursions and returning to their starting points. Monster airships of this kind some three hundred feet in length are already in commission in the war departments of every great nation in Europe, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are being expended in their further improvement.
The flying machine, or the machine which without gas will navigate the air, as does the bird, was first successfully used in America. After centuries of human effort, Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, were the first to fly with wings (or aeroplanes) in a motor driven-machine without gas. The machines of this class are those on which the greatest amount of thought is being spent by inventors at present, for it seems probable to thoughtful men that these will be the machines which in the future will swiftly carry men and messages through the air. But long after these machines have been perfected the balloon will still retain a place in sport and recreation, just as does the sailing boat, since its rival the steam-driven craft has largely displaced it for business and for war.
The world seems on the point of realizing that vision of Tennyson, who wrote more than a half a century ago, —
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.