Today, the Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin tells the story of the events in Philadelphia 222 years ago.
Though traveling by balloon had been successful in Europe for several years, the first noted attempt in the young United States occurred in Philadelphia in 1784 by a Mr. Carnes of Baltimore. Unfortunately, the balloon struck a wall on its ascent, threw Mr. Carnes out then caught fire in mid-air.
Much of the European success with balloons was in France.
In 1793, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard solicited permission to attempt flight at the same location in Philadelphia, the prison-yard, that Mr. Carnes tried nine years earlier.
The following from George Washington gave Monsieur Blanchard approval for his attempt:
Pass for Jean-Pierre Blanchard
[Philadelphia, 9 January 1793]
To all to whom these presents shall come.
The bearer hereof, Mr. Blanchard a citizen of France, proposing to ascend in a balloon from the city of Philadelphia, at 10 o’clock, A.M. this day, to pass in such direction and to descend in such place as circumstances may render most convenient—These are therefore to recommend to all citizens of the United States, and others, that in his passage, descent, return or journeying elsewhere, they oppose no hindrance or molestation to the said Mr. Blanchard; And, that on the contrary, they receive and aid him with that humanity and good will, which may render honor to their country, and justice to an individual so distinguished by his efforts to establish and advance an art, in order to make it useful to mankind in general.
Given under my hand and seal at the city of Philadelphia, this ninth day of January, one thousand seven hundred and ninety three, and of the independence of America the seventeenth.
Monsieur Blanchard successfully launched his balloon that day from the prison-yard of the Walnut Street Jail. He and his balloon traveled less than an hour and roughly ten miles crossing the Delaware River to land on the bank of Big Walnut Creek in Deptford, New Jersey.
In addition to President Washington, four future presidents attended Monsieur Blanchard’s balloon exhibition that day in their current roles: Vice-President John Adams, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, US Representative James Madison and US Senator James Monroe. (Both Madison and Monroe hailed from Virginia.)
Blanchard performed many experiments with balloons throughout his lifetime.
Though invented by another Frenchman in 1783, Blanchard became the first to utilize the parachute as a safety device in his balloon travels and experiments.
Several of his inventions focused on finding a way to steer the balloon through the air currents.
Historical references note he, along with several of his contemporaries, tried different options including oars and sails without success.
For a long time in the late 1700s and early 1800s, people remained fascinated with balloonists and their airborne endeavors.
The Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin remembers those early aerial navigators and is shown against a background of the title page of Monsieur Blanchard’s journal of his forty-fifth ascension on January 9, 1793.