Miscellaneous Adventures in Ballooning

For our next Miscellaneous Adventure, you voted to open Record Unit 351, National Air and Space Museum, Photographs, 1922-1958, 1963-1966, Box 1, Folder Miscellaneous Photographs. There are actually four folders titled Miscellaneous Photographs in Box 1, so I chose to open the first folder. This folder essentially can be divided into two parts. The first half of the folder contains photographs of a balloon, and the second half contains images of Secretary Carmichael and assorted visitors in the aeronautics exhibits at the Arts and Industries Building.

The images of the balloon caught my eye the moment I saw them, but there were no captions on the back, only credit line stamps relating to the U.S. Signal Corps. However, located at the very back of the folder were two pages of a letter containing descriptions for each of the numbered photographs, allowing me to dig a little deeper. It turns out, these photos are of war balloons used by the United States Army Signal Corps, including one used for aerial reconnaissance during the Battle of Santiago in 1898. The idea was that the balloon could be taken to the desired location and inflated, used to determine the whereabouts of enemy troops from the air, and then report those locations to allied troops on the ground. Although the crew did successfully locate enemy troops during the Battle of Santiago, the balloon gave away the location of the allied ground troops and presented an easy target for enemy fire. The bullet holes combined with insufficient fuel for multiple inflations made it so that the balloon could not be used again during the battle.

The use of balloons in the Army was encouraged by Brigadier General Adolphus Washington Greely who saw the importance aeronautics could play in wartime tactics. Once he realized the downsides to balloons, he pushed the Army to consider other options, which included providing Samuel P. Langley, third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, with $50,000 to build his aerodrome.

To see what other miscellaneous mysteries exist in our collections, comment below, or message us on Facebook or Twitter to:

Vote Folder A  for Accession 94-043, F. Raymond Fosberg Papers, c. 1945-1993, Box 6, Miscellaneous Ceylon materials, 1974-1976  (2 folders)

Or

Vote Folder B for Accession 91-176, Wurdack, J. J, John J. Wurdack Papers, c. 1949-1986, Box 3, Folder Miscellaneous 1950-1959

Brigadier General Adolphus Washington Greely, Chief Signal Officer, U.S. Army, 1888-1906 (RB-5426). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011433.

Inflating the Signal Corps Balloon for Battle of Santiago, June 30, 1898. (RB-1767). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011434.

Balloon No. 5 at Benicia Barracks, California, circa 1907 (RB-3030). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011435.

Signal Corps Balloon, Tampa, Florida, 1898 (RB-3023). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011436.

Signal Corps Balloon, Tampa, Florida, 1898 (RB-3024). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011437

Signal Corps Balloon, Tampa, Florida, 1898 (RB-3026-C). Record Unit 351, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image No. SIA2016-011438.

Related Resources

Signal Corps Regimental History, United States Army

Miscellaneous Adventures, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives 

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