PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
Smithsonian recounts balloon flights of Civil War
Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2011
Author: BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press
The National Air and Space Museum
will re-create a key moment in the nation's first attempt at an air
force during the Civil War 150 years ago -- decades before the first
In June 1861, Thaddeus Lowe flew 500
feet above the National Mall in a gas-filled balloon to show President
Abraham Lincoln how balloons could be used to spy on the Confederates.
Lowe 's balloon, the Enterprise, remained tethered to the ground, and
Lowe sent Lincoln the first telegram ever transmitted from the air.
"The flight was designed to draw
Abraham Lincoln into the business," said Smithsonian flight historian
Tom Crouch. "Lincoln was fascinated by technology."
Lowe 's handlers then pulled the
balloon close to the ground and guided it to the White House. The
"aeronaut" was invited to stay and discuss its potential with the
president. They talked into the early morning hours, according to
Lowe 's flight eventually led to the
creation of the Union Balloon Corps and the start of aerial espionage
in the United States.
The idea came earlier in 1861 when
Lowe launched a balloon flight from Cincinnati to South Carolina to try
to raise interest in ballooning. Fort Sumter had just been fired on at
the start of the war, though, and Lowe 's balloon came down in enemy
"Here was this Yankee" with a thick Northeast accent, Crouch said. "And they arrest him. They think he's a spy."
After Lowe was released, he took his
idea to Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, who coordinated the flight
demonstration in Washington and introduced the balloonist to Lincoln.
"Without Lincoln's interest, it
probably wouldn't have happened," Crouch said. "There was resistance in
the War Department. It was new and untried. Nobody was sure how it
Soon Lowe was leading a corps of nine
civilian aeronauts and seven balloons. They operated with the Army of
the Potomac, coming under fire at Fredericksburg, Va., and elsewhere
and sent balloons to the southern coast and western rivers.
The Confederates followed with a
balloon of their own. Their first was a hot air balloon that didn't
work well. Then they commissioned a balloon made of dress silk called
the Gazelle that conducted aerial espionage for years before being
captured by Union forces.
On Saturday, the museum will inflate
a balloon similar to Lowe 's Enterprise and host re-enactors portraying
Lowe and Lincoln, with presentations on Civil War ballooning. The
National Park Service won't allow the balloon to fly, though. The
events run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The museum also has photographs and
Lowe 's binoculars on display. A piece of the Confederate Gazelle
balloon and other equipment is on view at the museum's annex in
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES