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Subject: ‘Transport’

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London Underground began with the Metropolitan Line in 1863

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Railways, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the London Underground first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

Metropolitan Railway opens,  picture, image, illustration
A station on the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863 by Pat Nicolle

Snorting, plump-bellied horses clattered along the London streets. With their harnesses jingling and the springs of their carriages creaking, they paraded through the busy thoroughfares with the dignity of true, thoroughbred carriage horses.

Clearly, they were the lords of the highway. And their fashionable passengers sitting in open carriages behind them, dressed in their finery for all to admire, oozed with aristocratic refinement.

At intervals, however, a horse’s well-fed, dappled belly found itself poised over one of a number of holes, covered with gratings, that had begun to appear in the road. And at regular periods, there would be an eruption like a miniature volcano from the hole. Thick, sooty smoke, scalding steam and showers of sparks would belch forth from it.

If an unfortunate horse happened to be passing over the hole at the exact moment of the eruption, it received a hot blast on its belly that made it bolt in terror. A gentle jaunt became a steeplechase, and the passengers found their sedate carriage transformed into a rocketing projectile.

Meanwhile, just below the road, the device which had caused the horse’s discomfiture would be spinning along the track of London’s first underground railway. The culprit was a steam locomotive which created a great deal of smoke. To enable this to escape, “blow holes” were cut in the tunnel roof, and the resulting eruptions frequently caught horses unawares.

However, even the horses got used to it in the end, and the problem was later lessened by the introduction of improved locomotives.

Nevertheless, Londoners were pleased with their underground railway. It had been opened in 1863 and ran for 3 ¾ miles from Bishop’s Road, Paddington to Farringdon Street in the City.

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The first airmail service began during the Siege of Paris

Posted in Aviation, Communications, Historical articles, History, Transport, War on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about communications first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 594 published on 2 June 1973.

First airmail service 1870,  picture, image, illustration
The world's first regular airmail service was established in 1870 when manned balloons were used to carry sacks of letters from the besieged city of Paris to the outside world

Air-mail letters led a somewhat adventurous life in the pioneer days of flight. Balloons tended to get blown off course and land in out of the way places and the early aircraft, even if they took-off safely, could never be relied upon to land in one piece.

In the besieged city of Paris in 1870 it seemed as though the struggle against the encircling Prussian armies was hopeless. The tight ring of steel around the sprawling capital of France was complete and the sound of gunfire could be heard throughout the city. The last trickle of refugees had stopped and food supplies were already running short.

Yet for all their mastery of the land the Prussians could not cut off Paris completely from the rest of the world. Every two or three days a huge manned balloon would rise up from the centre of the city, rapidly gaining height until the stronger air currents could carry it safely over the Prussian lines. With the pilots in the gondola of these frail machines were bags of letters, keeping the world informed of their plight and maintaining the morale of defenders by linking them with their relatives in the safety of provincial France.

This was the world’s first regular air-mail letter service and despite the apparent calm and peace once the balloon was airborne, it was a dangerous and exciting business. First came the breathtaking view of Paris with the Seine running through it like a silver ribbon. There was little time to admire the view, however, for any loss of height might put them within range of the enemy sharpshooters below. Then, for all their skill, the pilots were likely to be at the mercy of the winds.

One balloon had the misfortune to strike some very contrary winds and landed in Bavaria, 470 miles away and in the heart of the enemy’s territory. Another had an incredible 14 hour journey during which hurricane force winds swept it over 1,000 miles to Lifjeld in Norway and at speeds exceeding 100 mph.

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The dangerous days of Britain’s long-distance mail coaches

Posted in Communications, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Sunday, 16 March 2014

This edited article about Britain’s postal service first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.

The Birmingham Flyer,  picture, image, illustration
The Birmingham Flyer by Derek Eyles

The Royal Palace of Sheen, in Surrey, was unnaturally quiet. Instead of the usual gaiety and music, the bustling of servants and the gossip of courtiers, there were only silent groups of grave-faced men and women. They were waiting for the end of an age, for their Queen, Elizabeth I, was dying. Soon after midnight on 24th March, 1603, their long vigil ended.

Within half-an-hour a rider cantered out of the courtyard, at the start of a long journey to Edinburgh where King James would learn of the throne which awaited him. The messenger, Sir Robert Carey, galloped on through the day, changing horses every 20 miles or so. The roads were atrocious and he passed many a coach, floundering up to the axles in mud. But the Tudor postal system, with its regular stages and efficient organisation was designed to help a single rider and he eventually completed the 400 mile journey in under three days.

Not everyone, however, heard the news with such speed. There were parts of Devon and Cornwall where the people were still unaware of the change of monarch six months later! It was at times like these that people realised how much still needed to be done before the Postal Service could really be said to cover the country and it took another 250 years to achieve this.

The idea of a regular series of messengers was nothing new, for both the Persian and the Roman Empires relied on state couriers to deliver despatches over the thousands of miles of territory they controlled. Houses were built at regular stages, or posts, along all the main roads and these provided protection, fresh horses, and reserve messengers so that the service could be as speedy as possible. The Greek historian, Herodotus was a great admirer of these despatch riders and he wrote:

‘Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’

A good system of posts, it was realised was an aid to power and so it was the King who usually kept tight control over the system.

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George Hudson – the gruff railway king who fiddled the books

Posted in Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 15 March 2014

This edited article about the railway age first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.

George Hudson,  picture, image, illustration
When George Hudson was elected an M.P. the police came out in extra numbers to deal with the Sunderland mob

Railway mania! It seemed in the 1840s that the entire population of Great Britain had gone railway mad, and it was hardly surprising. Think of the excitement when Man first set foot on the Moon, think how our grandfathers felt in the early days of flying. Multiply that excitement by ten and you still would not begin to imagine what the early Victorians felt about railways.

The reason can be summed up in a single word – speed!

For thousands of years men had never been able to go faster than a horse at full gallop, but suddenly, from the 1820s onwards, all this changed. By 1837, an engine driver was getting into trouble for going at 45 m.p.h., thrilling as his passengers found it. Every year Britain seemed to be shrinking, every year travel became more and more popular. It was a true revolution. By 1848, 5,000 miles of track crisscrossed the country, built by rough workers called navvies, who could conquer any obstacle.

There were giants in those days who planned and directed those campaigns to build the railways, who designed and built locomotives, bridges, tunnels; famous names like George and Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And there was also George Hudson who, before scandal blighted his name, was known throughout the land as the railway king.

Hudson, one of Britain’s first millionaires, was a Yorkshire farmer’s son. Like many great Victorians – engineers, explorers, inventors – he was a human dynamo, part genius and part rule-breaker. He himself, businessman that he was, was also something of a land pirate!

He was a strongly-built, rough, bluff, swaggering man, born in 1800, and his education was strictly limited. He started as a draper’s apprentice and he did well, wisely marrying his boss’s daughter and soon becoming a partner in the firm. Suddenly, in 1827, he was left £30,000, worth about ten times as much as it would be today, and he seized his chance to enter politics and, more importantly, to plunge headlong into the booming world of the railways.

He was no engineer, but a born businessman, to put it mildly. He poured vast sums into railway schemes, got to know the great George Stephenson and became his friend, and was elected Lord Mayor of York. He opened his first railway, the York and North Midland, in 1839.

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Ariel built motor tricycles and cycles for day-to-day travel

Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 15 March 2014

This edited article about motorcycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.

Acetylene headlights on a motor car and a motorcycle
Acetylene headlights on a motor car, a motor tricycle and a bicycle

Most of the early makes of motorcycle achieved fame in the racing world, but some of the largest makers ignored this side of the sporting scene. Ariels were among these – they concentrated on producing machines for the man in the street and demonstrated their merits in trials and attention-catching stunts.

The first Ariel, made in 1898, was a motor tricycle with the engine fitted in front of the back axle under the saddle. Before it could be sold the public had to be convinced that this new fangled idea worked, so Jack Stocks, a cycle racing champion, rode the tricycle from London to Birmingham. Jack Stocks’s famous name was good for advertising – and no doubt his powerful legs were equally useful when the engine needed some assistance up hills!

By 1903 the firm was producing a little 2 ½ hp motorcycle and to prove its merits it was ridden from Land’s End to John o’Groats – a remarkable feat on the terrible roads of the time. From then on Charles Sangster, the head of the firm, kept pace with developments, so that by the time of World War I Ariels had the luxury of a three speed gear box although they retained a belt drive as this helped smooth out the roughness of early engines.

After the war the firm rather daringly experimented with a spring frame but it did not meet with much success – perhaps because the riders of the day had so many other problems that they were not very worried about a few bumps! Motorcycles were only just beginning to be fitted with internal expanding brakes in place of the cycle type which were only just adequate on dry days and hopeless in the wet. Lighting was by acetylene gas generated by allowing water to drip on calcium carbide – a smelly business which produced a light so poor that it enforced slow riding. The early 1920s saw the introduction of proper pillion seats – known as “flapper brackets,” because the short skirted “flappers” of the period sat astride. Previously young ladies had ridden sidesaddle on a cushion strapped to the carrier.

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The new dirt track dare-devils rode the reliable Rudge

Posted in Australia, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes, Transport on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about motor-cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Dirt track racing,  picture, image, illustration
Cornering on the dirt track

In the mid-1920s the Rudge Whitworth motorcycle catalogue advertised a rather unusual optional extra. This was the canoe sidecar – a canoe-shaped passenger carrying body which could be detached from the motorcycle and launched on a river!

Such ideas were typical of the factory which was always coming up with new ideas – and a surprising number of them worked; for right from the earliest days the engineers at the Coventry works seemed to have an instinct for doing a job well.

In 1911 the TT races in the Isle of Man were moved to the mountain circuit – so-called because it climbed to nearly 1500 feet going over the shoulder of Snaefell. This climb posed a great problem to the single gear belt driven machines of the day and some of the riders who had entered their Rudges asked the factory if it could produce a variable gear.

The gear ratio of a belt driven machine is fixed by the relative size of the pulley on the engine shaft and that on the rear wheel. As early as 1909 the Zenith firm had introduced its Gradua gear in which a large hand lever opened or closed the flanges of the pulley on the engine shaft, thus varying its effective size. This change in the pulley altered the tension of the belt, and this was compensated for by moving the rear wheel backwards or forwards! Although the idea of shifting the back wheel about while the bike was in motion does not seem very pleasant, the arrangement became quite famous.

The Rudge designers felt that something better was needed and it took them just one week to invent and produce the Rudge Multi gear. As the engine shaft pulley was made smaller the belt rim on the rear wheel was made larger and vice versa so that the belt was kept at a constant tension. There was a clumsy looking arrangement on the rear wheel, and the variation in gearing possible was not very wide, but it gave a considerable advantage over a single geared machine and the Rudge Multi became a great favourite before World War I.

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Henry Ford invented the most popular machine in history

Posted in Cars, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Transport on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about Henry Ford first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.

Henry Ford, picture, image, illustration
Henry Ford produced his first hand-built car in 1892 by Robins-Davidson-Howat

In the years between 1891 and 1896, the people of Bagley Avenue, Detroit, U.S.A., had got used to hearing strange noises from the woodshed behind one of the houses. If the light glowed far into the night as it often did, they merely muttered to themselves, “It’s only crazy Ford playing with his mad machine.”

Then at 4 a.m. one spring morning in 1896, Henry Ford impatiently knocked a large hole in one of the walls of the shed, and drove his first car out into the world. Later, he took his wife, Clara, and their baby son, Edsel, for a ride in front of their astonished neighbours, who could hardly believe their eyes when they saw what seemed to be a motorized four-wheeled bicycle. However, this was only the first of a whole series of cars that Henry Ford was destined to build and develop, culminating just over ten years later in his famous ‘Tin Lizzie.’ This was a car that was bought by more people than any earlier car.

Henry was 32 years old, and chief engineer at the Detroit Edison Company, when he first frightened the local horses with his spluttering, backfiring ‘horseless-carriage.’ Every spare minute outside his job was spent on his ‘crazy’ hobby. He had not, of course, built the first car in the world, for steam-driven vehicles had been used in Britain for fifty years. But he was one of the pioneers of the petrol-propelled vehicle.

Henry was born on a farm near Detroit on 30th July, 1863; and it seems as if he became addicted to machinery almost as soon as he came into the world. His father could never get him interested in ploughing or milking, and his school career was a failure because his mind was always on cogs and pistons.

As a boy he spent a lot of time mending broken machinery in the area, as well as building water-wheels and steam turbines. He often occupied himself in the evenings by riding around the neighbouring farms, repairing clocks and watches. Eventually, when he was sixteen, he left the farm and went to Detroit, where he became an apprentice in a machine shop that made steam engines. At last, he was in the environment he loved, and he happily worked out his apprenticeship and then got a job repairing road engines for a firm in Detroit.

However his father was still anxious to get him back to farming and he offered Henry forty acres of land if he came and worked it. Henry tried it, but he did not enjoy it. He stayed at home long enough to court Clara Bryant and marry her, but he seemed to spend more time building petrol engines than he did farming. By 1891, he was back in Detroit, again burning the midnight oil in his woodshed on Bagley Avenue. He did not want to be distracted from his obsession with motor cars and his dreams of giving ordinary ‘plain folk,’ like himself, the opportunity of enjoying the fruits of technology. For in the eighteen-nineties, the motor car was a luxury which only the rich, very rich could afford, and that was something Henry wanted to change.

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The Brough Superior was the Rolls-Royce of motor cycles

Posted in Engineering, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sport, Transport on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about motor cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

T E Lawrence,  picture, image, illustration
T E Lawrence on his Brough Superior motor cycle by John Keay

The lean figure settled into the saddle of his motor cycle as he left the R.A.F. camp. Fingers moved the throttle lever and the throaty burble of the twin exhausts rose to a harsher note as the needle of the speedometer swept round to 60 – 70 – 80 mph. Overhead, the pilot of a Bristol fighter plane noticed the swiftly moving dot below and, swooping down to the tree tops, he pointed along the road in challenge. The rider of the motor cycle grinned and urged his mount past the 90 mark. Motor cycle and plane gobbled up the miles as they fought out their odd duel, till, as they neared Lincoln, the rider slowed his machine to a sedate pace and the pilot wheeled away waving a salute.

The rider was Aircraftsman T. E. Shaw – better known as T. E. Lawrence – the famous Lawrence of Arabia. The motor cycle he was driving was a Brough Superior SS100 – a machine which was so far ahead of its time that even now, 40 years later, its looks would command attention and its guaranteed speed of over 100 mph would outpace many modern machines.

As early as 1922, the journal “The Motor Cycle” had called the Brough Superior, the Rolls-Royce of motor cycles and the firm had adopted this as its slogan. Rolls-Royce took great pride in its name and there is a story that an official was sent down to inspect the Brough works at Nottingham to see whether this slogan should be permitted.

He was taken into a room where two men in spotless white coats and white gloves were fitting a petrol tank to a machine that was gleaming in its perfection. This so impressed him that he went back satisfied. It was just as well, the story goes on, that no one told him that the men were building a special machine to be displayed at the next motor cycle show.

In fact, the slogan was fully justified, for throughout their history Brough Superiors were built with the utmost care and without regard to price. George Brough had worked in his father’s firm which produced the Brough motor cycle before World War I. In 1919, George decided that the time had come to market a superb and powerful luxury machine for the connoisseur. His father disagreed, so George left and set up on his own to make the Brough Superior.

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The Edwardians raced through the country in their new motor-cars

Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Transport, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.

Edwardian charabanc,  picture, image, illustration
A noisy new motor car frightening villagers and their horses by Richard Hook

It has been said that the Victorians made the money, and the Edwardians spent it! A new phrase to describe the young Edwardian descendants of their manufacturing forefathers was “the idle rich”. And idle a great many of them were; inheritors of huge fortunes which it was their pleasure to spend on all the wonders of the new age, and on one wonder in particular – the motor-car, the “horseless carriage”, a new-fangled monster which quite serious thinkers at the turn of the century condemned as a passing craze which would soon appear only in museums and would never displace the horse.

It was in a Daimler that the King made history by driving from Sandringham to Newmarket in Suffolk to enjoy a day’s horse racing. At 30 miles-an-hour the Monarch, followed by a cloud of dust, came speeding through the main street of Downham to the dusty cheers of his loyal subjects. The legal speed limit was then twelve miles an hour, but no Norfolk bobby would flag down his king.

Edward was always in the forefront of the merriest forms of progress. Before the advent of the “horseless-carriage” he followed – rather than set – the craze for the bicycle. Thanks to the inflatable tyre devised by a Belfast vet named Boyd Dunlop the bicycle became the thing, and there went Edward, knickerbockered, upon his own machine.

Late Victorian England regarded the new-fangled motor-car with the greatest distrust. It lacked elegance, it gave forth a vile smell, and it was a menace to chickens and old ladies who were often drawn by cartoonists of the time toddling away in terror at the approach of a Benz, a Darracq or a Daimler.

In 1896, the Red Flag Act, which had required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every motor car and warn people of its approach, was repealed. To celebrate the event 33 motorists set off on a drive from London to Brighton, some steam-propelled, the majority petrol-driven, and most of them “foreigners”. The manufacturers of these Mercedes’s, Darracqs, Delauney-Bellevilles, Benz’s and Daimlers, having had no “Red Flag Act” to contend with, had the edge over the early British ‘motormakers’, such as a Mr Morris of Oxford and a Mr Austin of Birmingham. Of the 33 starters only thirteen made the grade, but they had started something – the annual London-Brighton run for veteran cars. Five years later, in 1901, 65 cars assembled in London’s Hyde Park to start a gruelling 1,000 mile test course to prove the merits of petrol versus steam, horizontal versus vertical engines, the two cylinders versus four, air versus water, cooling belt transmission versus chain and sprocket drive.

The test run was a national sensation. Scarcely a road in the country was other than a dust-track in the summer and a mud-bath in the winter. The early motorist was scarcely a popular figure as he trundled through the countryside raising behind him a dust cloud 20 feet high and a mile long. In tweed hats with ear-flaps, heavy goggles (because there were no windscreens) and long “dust-coats” these gentry are portrayed as “road-hogs”, terrorising the chickens which fled squawking before them, frightening villagers and, above all, raising panic among horses. They outraged the “carriage-folk” whose age of elegance was under threat and whose coachmen whenever they had the chance lashed out with their whips across the faces of any motorist rash enough to pass close to them.

But there was no doubt about it – the motor-car had arrived. In 1904 nearly 9,000 private vehicles were on the roads. Ten years later the figure had risen to 132,000. 1903 was the year when, for the fee of £1, the motorist was required to register his diabolical machine and to pay a further two guineas for a licence to possess such a thing. A driving licence cost five-shillings, though whether a man or a woman was able to drive did not concern the authorities. The early cars, of course, were eternally breaking down, likewise the first motor-buses. These, especially in London, were greeted with hatred and derision by the drivers of the horse-drawn buses.

In 1905, there were still 4,000 four-wheeler horse cabs plying for hire. In London alone there were 3,500 horse-buses and 7,000 hansom cabs, those superbly elegant carriages made for two which had been described as the “gondolas” of London. But then came 240 motor-buses to revolutionise public transport and the petrol-driven taxi, which made its first appearance in that year. By 1910, the year of the King’s death, there were over 6,000 of them.

A year later the very last horse-bus to clip-clop through the London streets had disappeared.

It was fairly early in Edward’s reign when motor-cars of English manufacture began to push the Continentals out of supremacy. The Austin, the Morris, the Arrol-Johnson, the Swift, the Humber, the Napier, and, mightiest of them all, the Rolls-Royce reigned supreme. The moment when the Honourable C. S. Rolls, an intrepid racing driver and car-dealer, met a meticulous engineer from Manchester named Henry Royce, was, in its way, the greatest moment in the history of the motor-car. Already Henry Royce had been manufacturing small, twin-cylinder cars of ten horse-power. The “little Royce” was extremely popular. But Rolls, the intuitive sales and publicity man, knew a genius when he saw one. Royce would make the best car in the world, and Rolls would sell it as just that. “The Best Car in the World” was, and still is, the simple slogan under which Rolls-Royce have traded, almost unchallenged, for some 65 years.

And what a sensation it was, this “Silver Ghost”, which appeared at the Paris Motor-Show of 1908. The long, sleek bonnet with its distinctive radiator, the almost silent 40 horse-power, six-cylinder engine beneath it, the gleaming coachwork. The entire car had an overall air of confident good breeding.

The great Montague Napier whose six-cylinder car had already beaten the cream of the Continentals, could not equal Henry Royce’s masterpiece, even though it had already averaged 65 mph for 24 hours over the first motor-racing circuit in Britain – Brooklands.

“British and Best” was the war-cry of the Edwardian motor-makers. Not only did they prove it with cars by Royce, Napier and Lanchester, but in the eccentric “drive it to death” stunt of tyre-maker Harvey du Cros. In 1904 he drove his little Ariel car up the track of the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon, the last half-a-mile of it being a gradient of one in five. There on the summit, stood the Ariel, seeming to say to the world: “That’ll show you.”

Balloonists braved the skies long before pilots and aeroplanes

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about pioneering balloon flight first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.

de Rozier and D'Arlandes,  picture, image, illustration
Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon made by the Montgolfier brothers, by Wilf Hardy

They were only a few miles from the French coast, but it seemed certain that their historic trip was destined to end, not in a blaze of glory but in the waters of the English Channel. They had hoped to be the first men to cross the Channel by air, but their leaking balloon was lowering them steadily towards the waves.

The two men were Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, and an American doctor called John Jeffries, and the extraordinary thing about their adventure was that it happened as far back as 1785. We tend to think of flying as very much a 20th century achievement, and that only in our own times have men been able to look down on the Earth from above. Yet the balloon age began on November 21, 1783.

On that great day, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon. It had been made by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, who were French paper-makers by trade. They got their idea after noticing how open paper bags floated into the air after being thrown on a fire.

They made a balloon of linen and paper and lit a fire under it, and its pull was so strong that it needed eight men to hold it. Suddenly, it shot up to 6,000 feet and came down a mile away.

The first passengers were a chicken, a duck and a sheep. Then came the first manned flight.

It was a dangerous one, because a brazier was fixed to the neck of a new balloon and the two “aeronauts” were ordered to keep the fire stoked after the balloon had been “blasted off” by a fire under the launching platform. During the five mile flight, the two had to keep putting out fires that started in the inflammable painted cloth of the balloon, but they survived.

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