Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

have risen to the great demands made upon them. In dispatch after dispatch from the front, tribute has
been paid to the gallant and devoted work of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. In

a long and bitter struggle British airmen have gradually asserted their supremacy in the air. In all parts of

the globe, in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Palestine, in Africa, the airman has been an indispensable

adjunct of the fighting forces. Truly it may be said that mastery of the air is the indispensable factor of

final victory.


CHAPTER II. The French Paper Maker who Invented the Balloon

In the year 1782 two young Frenchmen might have been seen one winter night sitting over their cottage
fire, performing the curious experiment of filling paper bags with smoke, and letting them rise up

towards the ceiling. These young men were brothers, named Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, and their

experiments resulted in the invention of the balloon.

The brothers, like all inventors, seem to have had enquiring minds. They were for ever asking the why
and the wherefore of things. "Why does smoke rise?" they asked. "Is there not some strange power in the

atmosphere which makes the smoke from chimneys and elsewhere rise in opposition to the force of

gravity? If so, cannot we discover this power, and apply it to the service of mankind?"

We may imagine that such questions were in the minds of those two French paper-makers, just as similar
questions were in the mind of James Watt when he was discovering the power of steam. But one of the

most important attributes of an inventor is an infinite capacity for taking pains, together with great


And so we find the two brothers employing their leisure in what to us would, be a childish pastime, the
making of paper balloons. The story tells us that their room was filled with smoke, which issued from the

windows as though the house were on fire. A neighbour, thinking such was the case, rushed in, but, on

being assured that nothing serious was wrong, stayed to watch the tiny balloons rise a little way from the

thin tray which contained the fire that made the smoke with which the bags were filled. The experiments

were not altogether successful, however, for the bags rarely rose more than a foot or so from the tray.

The neighbour suggested that they should fasten the thin tray on to the bottom of the bag, for it was

thought that the bags would not ascend higher because the smoke became cool; and if the smoke were

imprisoned within the bag much better results would be obtained. This was done, and, to the great joy of

the brothers and their visitor, the bag at once rose quickly to the ceiling.

But though they could make the bags rise their great trouble was that they did not know the cause of this
ascent. They thought, however, that they were on the eve of some great discovery, and, as events proved,

they were not far wrong. For a time they imagined that the fire they had used generated some special gas,

and if they could find out the nature of this gas, and the means of making it in large quantities, they

would be able to add to their success.

Of course, in the light of modern knowledge, it seems strange that the brothers did not know that the
reason the bags rose, was not because of any special gas being used, but owing to the expansion of air

under the influence of heat, whereby hot air tends to rise. Every schoolboy above the age of twelve

knows that hot air rises upwards in the atmosphere, and that it continues to rise until its temperature has

become the same as that of the surrounding air.

The next experiment was to try their bags in the open air. Choosing a calm, fine day, they made a fire
similar to that used in their first experiments, and succeeded in making the bag rise nearly 100 feet. Later


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