7 January 1785: First crossing of the English Channel by air

On this day in 1785, French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American doctor John Jeffries became the first people to cross the English Channel by air.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, balloons were all the rage. In November 1783, the Montgolfier brothers had amazed the world with their sensational first flights, sparking a wave of balloonomania through France and England. Huge crowds gathered to watch balloonists – 400,000 are said to have watched a flight in Paris who became famous stars in their own rights.

The Montgolfiers used hot-air balloons, but hydrogen balloons were being developed in tandem by rival balloon pioneers. And it was in such a balloon that Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries made the first manned crossing of the English Channel by air. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard was a professional balloonist and one of the stars of the scene. Jeffries was an American doctor with an interest in making observations of the weather. It was he who stumped up the £700 for the flight in return for a place in the basket.

The two hung about in Dover for three weeks, waiting for suitable conditions. And at 1PM on 7 January, they took off from the grounds of Dover Castle. Their balloon was equipped with a rudder, a propeller which didn't work and oars, by which they hoped to row themselves through the air in the absence of a favourable wind. It also carried anchors. All this extra weight almost did for the aviators, as half way across the Channel, the balloon dropped perilously close to the waves. Anything that could be thrown over the side was, including the aeronauts' trousers.

It worked. The balloon gained altitude, and made it safely across to France, where the two landed as heroes in the foret de Gunes, near Calais, clad only in their underwear. Blanchard went on to make the first manned balloon flight in America some ten years later. His wife, Sophie Blanchard, became a hugely successful balloonist in her own right.

Recommended

What you should do if your energy provider goes bust
Personal finance

What you should do if your energy provider goes bust

At least four energy firms have gone under in recent days as the price of gas and electricity soars. Saloni Sardana looks at what to do if your energy…
20 Sep 2021
China’s property woes are coming to a head – so what happens now?
China stockmarkets

China’s property woes are coming to a head – so what happens now?

Chinese property giant Evergrande is in big trouble. And with no bailout plan yet, markets are getting nervy. John Stepek looks at how things might go…
20 Sep 2021
Three strong Asian stocks trading at bargain prices
Share tips

Three strong Asian stocks trading at bargain prices

Professional investor Nitin Bajaj of the Fidelity Asian Values investment trust picks three stocks that dominate their industries, earn good returns o…
20 Sep 2021
Iris Apfel: an inspiration to young fashionistas
People

Iris Apfel: an inspiration to young fashionistas

Iris Apfel made her name as a high-society interior designer before a show at the New York Met turned her into a fashion influencer. At 100 years old,…
19 Sep 2021

Most Popular

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021
Two shipping funds to buy for steady income
Investment trusts

Two shipping funds to buy for steady income

Returns from owning ships are volatile, but these two investment trusts are trying to make the sector less risky.
7 Sep 2021
Should investors be worried about stagflation?
US Economy

Should investors be worried about stagflation?

The latest US employment data has raised the ugly spectre of “stagflation” – weak growth and high inflation. John Stepek looks at what’s going on and …
6 Sep 2021