Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier in France, were the owners of a paper textile company. They noticed that when paper was burnt in a camp fire, the paper would lift into the air. They thought that it was the smoke that made things rise. Later they would reveal to themselves that it was in fact the heat of the fire and not the smoke.
Many people think the Wright brothers were the ones to take man’s first flight into the air. It was actually King Louis XVI of France that decided to send a sheep, a duck, and a rooster aloft first. the 19th of September 1783
The first ever recorded maned hot air balloon flight was on the 21st November 1783. The balloon pilot was Pilatre de Rozier. Pilatre means pilot and this is why we are still called pilots to this day!
THE CHAMPAGNE TRADITION
One of the facets of ballooning that adds a certain romanticism to it that has largely been lost to other forms of flying is that it holds to certain small traditions, some of which go back to ballooning’s origins in France. Many hot air balloon companies speak about the “Champagne Tradition” in ballooning. This is simply not factual.
In France the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet to prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthode champenoise until the 19th century, about 200 years after Merret documented the process. The 19th century saw an exponential growth in Champagne production, going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850. In 2007, Champagne sales hit an all-time record of 338.7 million bottles.
In the 19th century Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the Champagnes of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne was created for the British in 1876.
Why the bottle of wine on-board?
The tradition for the hot air balloon pilot/aeronaut was to present the landowner on whose property you make your final landing with a ceremonial bottle of the kings wine. This tradition is reputed to have started with the first balloonists in France. The first hot air balloons were filled with not just hot air but smoke, due to a slight mistake by scientists of that era who believed the lift was due to the smoke rather than the heat. Thus, early balloons landing in peasants’ farm fields the balloon pilots were attacked with stones, clubs and pitchforks, since they were obviously fire-breathing demonic spirit or dragon. (Those were the only things that flew in those days).
French peasants came with a certain level of sophistication, however. Early French hot air balloon pilots found that the peasants could be easily distracted if a human occupant offered them a glass of the kings wine. The bottle of wine that was ordered by the king’s decree was actually a life saving decree and it was also his way of protecting his investment as the king funded the entire idea and project at the time. The wine would have the king’s seal that the locals would recognize. Wine was a delicacy and only rich people could afford it. It is very unlikely that any landowner today thinks that a hot air balloon is a monster, but some remain agitated until offered the wine champagne! Today we offer the whole bottle! That is why we always have 2 bottles on hand with every flight for damage control.
Another champagne tradition is the “First Flight Ceremony” which provides a memorable finish for someone taking their first free flight in a hot air balloon. The ceremony can range from gentle and dignified to bizarre and sadistic. The gentle and dignified version, preferred by balloon passengers and Kansas Balloon Rides, as the pilot telling the story of the French origins of the wine/champagne ceremony. The history of ballooning is taught, & The Balloonist Prayer is spoken out loud, glasses are touched, a group cheer is sounded, and the champagne/wine is enjoyed. In Albuquerque and other locales of the Western balloonist, a slightly nastier version may be inflicted on the newly initiated. The new aeronauts are made to kneel on the ground while the story is told. With the final pronouncement, champagne is poured on the victim’s head and dirt (to commemorate the return to earth) sprinkled onto their wet hair for good measure.
Don’t worry, we are not going to send you home with stained clothes and the local dirt in your hair!
Now when you purchase your 1st hot air balloon, that will be a very different story. You will be tarred and feathered with chocolate syrup and shredded paper!