PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
THE CIVIL WAR YEARS
Cable Dispatch to Abraham Lincoln from Balloon - June 18, 1861
The Eagle Aloft, pages 346-347
With $250 from War Department coffers, Lowe forged ahead with preparations for a demonstration flight. Launching the Enterprise from the grounds of the Columbia Armory (now the site of the National Air and Space Museum) on June 18, Lowe rose to an altitude of 500 feet. He was accompanied by George McDowell of the American Telegraph Company and Herbert C. Robinson, a local telegrapher, who would send Lowe's message to the world from a telegraph key in the basket. Powered by batteries in the War Department, Lowe's key connected to a telegraph office in Alexandria and also to the White House. His message told far more about the aeronaut's public relations sense than it did about Confederate troops across the Potomac:
To the President of the United States
This point of observation commands an area nearly fifty miles in diameter. The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene. I take great pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station, and in acknowledging my indebtedness to your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the military service of this country.
It was a masterstroke. By telegraphing messages to the president, the War Department, General Winfield Scott, Alexandria, and Philadelphia, Lowe had enormously strengthened his own position and focused attention on his own candidacy for the yet-to-be-established office of chief aeronaut.
Once the telegraphic demonstration was complete, Lowe ordered the balloon hauled closer to the ground. With the three men still in the car, the Enterprise was towed to the Executive Mansion, where President Lincoln inspected it from a second-story window.
With the Enterprise safely staked out on the South lawn, Lowe spent the night at the White House. The Aeronaut discussed the military potential of the balloon with President Lincoln far into the evening:
The President was intensely interested in my outline of the proposed Aeronautic Corps and after the departure of his secretaries and assistants, we discussed the possibilities of the service and the details of operation. He was especially interested in my plan for directing the fire of artillery on an enemy that the gunners themselves could not see. We talked till late into the night, and then retired, he wearied with the cares of State, and I almost too excited to sleep, so enthused was I at the prospect of being directed to form a new branch of the military service.
Lowe was back in the air the next morning, demonstrating his capabilities once again for the president, members of the cabinet, and military authorities, including Captain Whipple, Bache's subordinate at the Topographical Engineers.
(Courtesy of Library of Congress)
Although the date appears to read June 16, Lowe's memoirs and press accounts at the time report that the telegram was sent on Tuesday, June 18. Lincoln's Flying Spies, page 27.
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
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