You are here: Technology > Famous inventors > Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier

The Montgolfiers experiment with balloon flight The first aircraft to carry humans free of the Earth’s surface was a balloon invented in 1783 by the French brothers Joseph (1740–1810) and Étienne (1745–99) Montgolfier. Searching for some kind of airborne craft which would make possible a military assault by air, Joseph was struck by the lifting force from the hot embers of a fire. Early experiments began with a small, box-like frame covered by cloth, before going on to build a much larger, globe-shaped structure. Joseph and his brother gave a public demonstration of this in June 1783. The craft flew for 10 minutes and reached about 2000 metres (6600 feet). The Montgolfier brothers had discovered that an airtight bag filled with hot air would rise.



The Montgolfiers' balloon, Montgolfière

First manned fight

Encouraged by its success, the Montgolfier brothers then built their first large-scale balloon from a lightweight cloth, coated with fireproofing varnish. They attached a wicker basket to it, and then, before the astonished gaze of King Louis XIV and Queen Marie Antoinette, sent a sheep, a cockerel and a duck on a short flight in September 1783. The craft reached about 460 metres (1500 feet) before landing safely.

Étienne Montgolfier himself was the first human to lift off from the Earth's surface. He made a tethered flight from the brothers' workshop yard to test the balloon in October 1783.

Q-files now has new sections specially written for younger readers. They are: Living world, Earth, Science, Human body, Prehistoric life, Space, History, Geography and Technology.


Find the answer