1852: The Birth of an Innovative Balloonist and Aerial Photographer

June 2, 1852

Eduard Spelterini, who would achieve widespread fame for his balloon ascents and the photographs that he took during those flights, was born in the village of Bazenheid in Switzerland. He developed a strong interest in travel via balloons after moving to Paris in the mid-1870s. In 1877, Spelterini was licensed as a balloon pilot by the Académie d’Aérostation météorologique de France.

After he had completed 17 safe and successful balloon flights by himself, Spelterini began offering commercial airborne rides to passengers. In 1887, he had the Paris-based company Surcouf create the first balloon that he actually owned. His first flight using this balloon took place in October of that year.

By the following year, Spelterini had moved to the United Kingdom. It was there that he teamed up with an American trapeze artist and aerial acrobat professionally known as Leona Dare for adventurous stunts in the skies. These stunts, which made both Spelterini and Dare world-famous, involved having him pilot his balloon to altitudes reportedly as high as 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) so that Dare could then perform various acrobatic routines while she was suspended under the basket of that aircraft. After initially enthralling crowds in the United Kingdom with this form of airborne entertainment, Spelterini and Dare took their act to several other countries in Europe before they parted ways.

Spelterini subsequently made well-publicized balloon flights over major cities such as Bucharest, Naples, Saloniki (now known as Thessaloniki), Athens, Istanbul, and Cairo. In 1891, he returned to his native Switzerland. Spelterini soon attracted large crowds when he maneuvered his aircraft above the cities of Zurich, Winterthur, and St. Gall as well as the towns/municipalities of Interlaken and Vevey in Switzerland.

Spelterini also found time to transport scientists high up into the air for observations and experiments. These scientists included geologists studying the earth from above; physicists examining the environment; and physicians studying human blood cells at low atmospheric pressure.

Sometime around 1893, Spelterini added yet another major dimension to his aviation endeavors when he began taking photographs during his flights. This new activity was a lot easier said than done, especially with camera equipment weighing anywhere from 88 to 132 pounds (40 to 60 kilograms). Spelterini persisted, however, and his bird’s-eye images of landscapes earned him further international acclaim. He even won awards for those photographs at aeronautical expositions in Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, and Milan. In addition, Spelterini featured his pictures in slide shows that he presented in wide-ranging trips to locales between Sweden and South Africa.

The outbreak of World War I, and in particular its ravaging impact throughout much of Europe, significantly limited the ability of Spelterini to travel outside Switzerland and take to the skies in his balloon. His once-thriving career essentially never recovered from these restrictions as well as post-war inflation and the now-overwhelming public preference for planes rather than balloons. Spelterini died in 1931 at the age of 79.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information Eduard Spelterini, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Spelterini

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