The late nineteenth century was a period of economic growth and urbanization, spurring many new inventions. In 1882, the Edison Electric Light Company launched its New York service in a grand illumination of J.P. Morgan's headquarters and the New York Times building. By 1896, American corporations were busily selling telephones, typewriters, electric streetcar service, home sewing machines, a host of agricultural inventions (such as irrigation pumps), and even automobiles, not to mention the latest bicycles. With such inventions changing their daily lives, Americans of the era admired such 'wizards of the laboratory' as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and they were fascinated with gadgets.
Such inventions confirmed Americans' faith in 'scientific progress.' Many political radicals shared this faith: in his utopian novel Looking Backward (1887), Bellamy envisioned a future Boston in which peace and full employment were accompanied by an invention we would recognize as the radio. On the other hand, the socialist newspaper The Coming Nation represented workers' plight through a story of industrialists' invention of a new type of treadmill (10 October).

[Hobart on Phone]

New York Journal, 10 October, 1896

Mr. Andree's plans for his balloon expedition to the north pole seem to be fairly definite and complete. He will leave Gothenburgh on June 7 in the Virgo for Spizebergenm plentifully supplied with provisions, a balloon house and all the necessary materials for the construction of a balloon. The balloon will carry four months' provisions in a concentrated form, and an electric cooking and heating apparatus. Mr. Andree, who is chief engineer to the Swedish bureau, has been experimenting in balloon sailing, and he now finds that he is able by means of a sail and a rope which drags over the ground, to steer within two points of the compass on either side of the wind.
-- Railway Review (Chicago). From Public Opinion, 21 May, 1896

[x-ray hand]

Scientific American, 29 February, 1896

[Balloon] Scientific American, 5 September, 1891


Ballooning was one of many popular amusements that captured America's attention in 1896. While the first manned balloon flight in the United States took place in Philadelphia on January 9, 1783, by Jean Pierre Blanchard, ballons had been used both in the United States and Europe prior to that. However, lack of sufficient navagational and ballooning technology made them both dangerous and unreliable. Balloons were frequently used for military purposes in Europe during the nineteenth century carrying mail, passengers, supplies, and pigeons, and were also used (though rather unsuccessfully) in the American Civil War. Balloon flights, races, and ascents continued to be popular in the United States through the 1930s.

A balloon race--the first ever held in the world--is booked to take place at Crystal Lake, Neb. this afternoon between Prof. Deering and Miss Hazel Keyes, both of Sioux City, Ia. The two aeronauts have been rivals for a long time. The ballooons will be inflated at the same moment. A referee will be appointed, whose duty it will be to take into consideration the speed made in the flight from terra firma, the height attained, the time occupied in the parachute drops, the distance between the point from which departure is taken and that at which a landing is effected, and the behavior of the rival aeronauts.
--Boston Globe, 20 September 1896

Harper's Weekly, 6 October, 1896

Cartoons on this Site Featuring Inventions
6 October, Chicago Times
10 October, Coming Nation
13 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
25 October, Inter-Ocean

[lamp ad]
Harper's Weekly, 6 October, 1896


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College