"Smithsonian" Balloon Ascends

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Date: May 1859

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Summary

Pioneer American balloonist John Wise launches a balloon named the "Smithsonian" carrying equipment provided by first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry. During prior balloon ascents, Wise had made meteorological observations that he conveyed to Henry, who in turn informed other meteorologists of Wise's findings. Although Henry is skeptical of Wise's theory that "a sufficient quantity of [atmospheric] electricity for practical purposes could be obtained" and delivered to earth via a wire suspended from a balloon, he outfits the balloon with "gas, conductors, ropes and meteorological instruments." During the ascension, Wise observes the development of a thundercloud. Subsequent experiments never occur because of Wise's preparations for a transatlantic balloon voyage, Henry's preoccupation with Smithsonian business, and the coming of the Civil War.

Subject

  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Wise, John 1808-1879

Category

Chronology of Smithsonian History

Notes

  • Bust portrait of the noted American aeronaut, John Wise, by Mora photographer, date unknown. From the Krainik Ballooning Collection, National Air and Space Museum Archives, image number NASM-7A47252.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 10, January 1858-December 1865: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2004, p. 16.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu

Date

May 1859

Topic

  • Balloons (Aircraft)
  • Electricity
  • Secretaries
  • Aeronautics
  • Science
  • Experiments
  • Meteorology
  • Atmospheric electricity
  • Balloons
  • Research
  • Science--Experiments

Place

United States

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