A Brief History of Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air ballooning has only been around for a little over 2 centuries, but it has a rich history filled with many important events. The history of ballooning is the history of flight because humans first achieved flight with balloons. For almost 150 years prior to the airplane, ballooning permeated many areas of human life and human achievement. From travel, mapping, research, military, photography and entertainment. This article will cover some of the main highlights from the history of hot air ballooning.


There are two types of balloons that are flown today, hot air balloons and gas balloons. The envelope is the part of the balloon that holds the hot air or gas. Hot air balloons fly as a result of a hotter air temperature inside the envelope than outside. Gas balloons fly using a lifting gas inside their envelopes. The gas pilots use will either be helium or hydrogen, with hydrogen being more common due to it being cheaper and more available than helium.

A Brief History of Ballooning

  • September 19th, 1783 – The first hot air balloon was launched by a French scientist named Pilatre De Rozier and was called “Aerostat Reveillon.” The balloon carried 3 passengers—a rooster, a duck, and a sheep— and was only in the air for 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground. 


  • November 21st, 1783 – Just two months later, 2 French brothers—Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier—attempted the first manned flight. They launched their balloon in Paris and the flight lasted 20 minutes, birthing hot air ballooning.


  • 1785 – Jean Pierre Blanchard, a French balloonist, and John Jefferies, his American co-pilot, became the first people to ever fly a gas balloon across the English Channel. This marked one of the longest distances a balloon had ever flown and was a major step toward long-distance balloon travel.


  • That same year, Pilatre De Rozier (the world’s first balloonist), died while also trying to cross the English Channel. His balloon exploded shortly after take-off on account of his experimental design of using a hot air balloon and a hydrogen balloon tied together.


  • January 7th, 1793 – Jean Pierre Blanchard becomes the first person to fly a hot air balloon in North America, with President George Washington watching the launch.


  • For the next 150 years, hot air ballooning was overtaken by gas ballooning and the practice of flying via hot air balloon was all but abandoned.


  • 1950s – A man named Ed Yost worked to revive hot air ballooning by engineering a redesigned fueling system that would allow balloons to fly for longer distances and become more maneuverable.


  • October 22, 1960 – Ed Yost launched the first modern hot air balloon flight in Bruning, Nebraska, which lasted for 1 hour and 35 minutes.


  • 1972 – Sid Cutter organized a gathering of 13 balloons in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This event would go on to become the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest balloon event in the world. 


  • 1987 – Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand became the first people in history to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, flying 2,900 miles in 33 hours.


  • 1991 – Branson and Lindstrand re-teamed to cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon. Their flight launched from Japan and traveled to Canada, flying 6,700 miles in 47 hours.


  • 2011 – The Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico becomes the home of the International Ballooning Hall of Fame to commemorate the history of hot air ballooning and all those who have played an important role.

One of the best ways to learn even more about the history of hot air ballooning is to visit the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Museum has a variety of exhibitions detailing the history of lighter-than-air flight, aircrafts and artifacts from important events.


The Balloon Museum Foundation proudly raises awareness, involvement, and funds for the Balloon Museum. Our goal is to uplift the Museum through project collaboration, artifact donations, and shared information and resources. The Balloon Museum Foundation also holds special events during The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each year, which is the world’s largest balloon festival and lasts nine days at the beginning of October. Find out more about the Fiesta and how you can support our efforts by becoming a member, donating, volunteering, or purchasing a wall tile today!

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