David L. Bristow

Sky Sailors—For Further Reading


Sky Sailors is a collection of true stories about ballooning, from the first flights in 1783 through the early twentieth century. Here are some materials not included in the book, which take you deeper into the world of early aeronautics:



Timeline of Early Flight: the Balloon Era to the birth of powered aviation

Air travel wasn’t invented all at once. It took centuries. Here are key events in the development of aeronautics up to time of the first successful airplanes and airships.



Ballooning Narratives

Some of the early aeronauts wrote about their own experiences. Here are a few of my favorite first-person accounts:


How John Wise exploded his balloon at 13,000 feet… on purpose

The American aeronaut was convinced that a burst balloon would form a natural parachute, and in 1838 risked his life to prove it. (Wise’s incredible 800-mile St. Louis-to-New York State flight is the subject of a chapter in Sky Sailors.)


John Poole and the “sublime of stillness”

Poole was a English playwright who took a balloon flight in 1838 and wrote colorfully about the sensations of rising high above the earth.


Balloon vs. stone wall: Henry Coxwell’s high-speed crash landing

Flying in high winds was dangerous, as Coxwell learned in 1861. (The following year, he took a balloon above 30,000 feet—without oxygen—which is the subject of a chapter in Sky Sailors.)


Trapped in the sky! Gertrude Bacon and the balloon that wouldn’t come down

In 1899, Bacon and her companions were nearing the English coast in a balloon that refused to come down. Would they be swept out over the North Sea?





Centennial of Flight (U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission)

This NASA-sponsored site includes lots of materials for students, teachers, and flight enthusiasts. It has a lighter-than-air section with articles about balloons and airships.


Tissandier Collection at the Library of Congress

Brothers Gaston and Albert Tissandier were balloonists in France in the nineteenth century. They assembled a large collection of balloon-related images that now belongs to the U.S. Library of Congress. More than 400 of these fascinating images are posted online, including portraits, sketches, posters, and technical drawings—some of which appear in Sky Sailors and on this website.


The Conquest of the Air, by John Alexander

Google Books has a number of full-text ballooning books (the narratives above link to some of them). Alexander’s 1902 book is a readable, relatively brief history of aeronautics that was published a year before the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. The book’s final chapters speculate about the future of flight.




The balloon Zenith and a lunar halo, France, 1875.


Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07435

For a while in 1783, the Montgolfier brothers burned old shoes and rotten meat to inflate their hot air balloons. They thought such fuel gave better lift.

Image of the balloon Zenith at night, with a lunar halo visible, France, 1875.