La Navigation Aérienne

One of the most attractive books in our recent aviation list is La Navigation Aérienne, a beautiful volume on the history of flight, including balloons and experimental aircraft as well as more fanciful depictions of flight in literature and cartoons.

The lavish publisher's binding and large number of illustrations mean that this book would have been relatively expensive, and was probably intended for the high-end gift market. In a nice coincidence, it was published in the same year as the Wright brothers made their first flight, at Kitty Hawk in December 1903.

Below, a few of the wonderful illustrations, beginning with a portrait of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to work as a professional balloonist.

Blanchard ascending as part of the celebration of the restoration of the French monarchy in 1814:

An illustration for the proto-science fiction novel La Découverte Australe par un Homme-Volant (1781) by Restif de la Brettone:

A popular 1804 cartoon satirising the balloon mania that had begun at the end of the previous century:

A depiction of the first parachute, demonstrated by its inventor, Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in 1783:

Jean-Marie le Bris's glider, the Artificial Albatross, which flew briefly in 1856. Towed by a horse, it was the first heavier-then-air flying machine to fly higher than its point of departure:

A rather fantastical airship designed by a M. Petin, which he believed would be propelled through the air at "20 to 120 miles an hour, and by means of which he promises to transport several thousand passengers, or a corresponding weight of freight... M. Petin is trying to accumulate the twenty thousand dollars needed to build his trial-ship; and, as hitherto, he has received only very small amounts francs, and half francs, and so on, he has only succeeded in obtaining four hundred dollars..." (The Ladies' Repository, volume 10, p. 317):

The crash of Geant (Giant) in 1863, what was then the largest balloon ever flown, created by the writer Gaspard Félix Tournachon Nadar, who also made the first aerial photos in 1858. Nadar suffered only a broken leg in the accident.

Cirque de nuages (Circus of Clouds), as observed by artist and balloonist Albert Tissandier.


Laura Massey
Laura Massey

Author

Alembic founder Laura Massey holds a bachelor's degree in the history of science from Georgia Tech and a master's in book history (focusing on medieval and early modern scientific and medical books,) from the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. She has worked as a cataloguer, bookseller, and blogger in libraries and bookshops in the United States and Britain.