Benjamin Franklin and the First Balloons

By Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin and
the First Balloons



Reprinted from the
Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society

Volume XVIII




The recent bi-centenary of Franklin's birth, which coincided with the
revival of interest in balloons, makes this a timely topic, especially
since Franklin's descriptions of the first balloon ascensions are
almost unknown and do not appear among his philosophical papers. The
five letters which I have the honor to present were written to Sir
Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London, in 1783, when
Franklin was Minister to the Court of France and, with the collateral
documents, they give perhaps the most complete and accurate account
of the beginning of aerial navigation, enlivened with the humor and
speculation characteristic of the writer. It is certainly remarkable
that Franklin, in the midst of diplomatic and social duties, could have
found time to investigate personally this new invention of which he at
once appreciated the possibilities.

The documents which I publish are copies of Franklin's letters, made
on thin paper in a copying press (probably the rotary machine invented
by Franklin), and all but one bear his signature in ink. They have
corrections in the author's hand-writing and, except for a few words,
are quite legible. They were purchased by me from Dodd, Mead & Co.,
in December, 1905, and previously had belonged to G. M. Williamson,
of Grandview-on-the-Hudson, to whom they had come from Vienna. None
of the letters appear in Sparks' edition of Franklin's Works, and
while all but one are included in the collections compiled by Bigelow
and Smyth, there are numerous inaccuracies, some of which will be
specified hereafter. Drafts of three of the letters are deposited in
the University of Pennsylvania, but the existence of one letter and the
whereabouts of another were unknown to the late Mr. Smyth, the editor
of the last and most complete edition of Franklin's Works,[1] who made
careful search for the original documents. Although the American owners
of these copies did not allow them to be transcribed, Mr. Smyth states
that he printed one letter from my copy, and he noted how the other
copies differed from the drafts in the University of Pennsylvania. In
general it may be said that, whereas Bigelow gives the text without
paragraphs, capital letters or the old spelling,[2] Smyth follows the
originals more closely. In

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Text Comparison with Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin; Written by Himself. [Vol. 1 of 2] With His Most Interesting Essays, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings; Familiar, Moral, Political, Economical, and Philosophical, Selected with Care from All His Published Productions, and Comprising Whatever Is Most Entertaining and Valuable to the General Reader

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_To William Franklin, Esq.
Page 14
I also sometimes jumbled my.
Page 17
It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the _New-England Courant_.
Page 30
So, though we had escaped a sunken rock, which we scraped upon in the passage, I thought this escape of rather more importance to me.
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"We will not row you," said I.
Page 38
By his letter it appeared there was a secret scheme on foot to the prejudice of Mr.
Page 43
_ 6_d.
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Before I enter upon my public appearance in business, it may be well to let you know the then state of my mind with regard to my principles and morals, that you may see how far those influenced the future events of my life.
Page 74
I am sure, however, that the life, and the treatise I allude to (on the _Art of Virtue_), will necessarily fulfil the chief of my expectations; and still more so if you take up the measure of suiting these performances to the several views above stated.
Page 78
Though I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia.
Page 95
This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and, therefore, that the safer should be chosen.
Page 98
Our articles of agreement obliged every member to keep always in good order and fit for use a certain number of leathern buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for packing and transporting goods), which were to be brought to every fire; and we agreed about once a month to spend a social evening together in discoursing and communicating such ideas as occurred to us upon the subject of fires as might be useful in our conduct on such occasions.
Page 114
From the slowness I saw at first in her working, I could scarcely believe that the work was done so soon, and sent my servant to examine it, who reported that the whole street was swept perfectly clean, and all the dust placed in the gutter which was in the middle; and the next rain washed it quite away, so that the pavement and even the kennel were perfectly clean.
Page 116
Kennedy, two gentlemen of great knowledge in public affairs, and being fortified by their approbation, I ventured to lay it before the Congress.
Page 147
[13] I set out immediately, with my son,[14] for London, and we only stopped a little by the way to view Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain; and Lord Pembroke's house and gardens, with the very curious antiquities at Wilton.
Page 156
Other societies of Europe were equally.
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If this practice had been pursued, such was the disposition of the colonies towards their mother country, that, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which they laboured, from restraints upon their trade, calculated solely for the benefit of the commercial and manufacturing interests of Great Britain, a separation of the two countries might have been a far distant event.
Page 182
Bache having replied that she hoped he would recover, and live many years longer, he instantly rejoined, "_I hope not_.
Page 201
It has always been observed, that Indians settled in the neighbourhood of white people do not increase, but diminish continually.
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' He said, and seconding the kind request, With friendly step precedes the unknown guest; A shaggy goat's soft hide beneath him spread, And with fresh rushes heaped an ample bed.