Balloonist Ascends from Smithsonian Grounds




Date: June 18, 1861


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Encouraged by Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, balloonist Thaddeus S. C. Lowe makes a number of ascents from the future site of the National Air and Space Museum, and from the Smithsonian and White House grounds, to demonstrate balloons' usefulness for military reconnaissance. The main purpose of these ascents is to show the feasibility and value of using the telegraph to communicate between aerial balloons and the ground. Henry witnesses these ascents and helps Lowe become appointed to organize a balloon corps within the Union Army. In February 1861, the Board of Regents had requested that Secretary Henry give Mr. Lowe any advice which he may deem fit, but had turned down Lowe's request for an appropriation.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Lowe, T. S. C (Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt) 1832-1913
  • Board of Regents


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 10, January 1858-December 1865: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2004, pp. 212-16.
  • "Fact Sheet" rev. 7/93 and "The Smithsonian and Flight" rev. 3/93 prepared by the National Air and Space Museum, Office of Public Affairs.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897, p. 836.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1860. Washington, D.C.: George Bowman, 1861, p. 113.

Contact information

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


  • June 18, 1861
  • Civil War, 1861-1865


  • Telegraph
  • Balloons (Aircraft)
  • Wartime Activities
  • Finance
  • Secretaries
  • Aeronautics
  • History
  • Communication
  • Balloons
  • Research


United States

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