Aviation: Balloons, Airships, Airplanes  

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Keystone View Co. 37249. Air Travel-Radio Equipment in an Airliner. E. $65

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U&U. 2932. Lord Roberts army advancing toward Johannesburg, 84th Battery and Balloon Corps, S.A. VG. $25

HC White Co. 8602. Francois Airship about to ascend for a flight, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis. VG. $75

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No ID. Signal “Das Ganze halt!” Small German Balloon on ground. VG. $40

No ID. Fesselballon b. Gebersdorf. VG. $40

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Keystone. 30012. Observation Balloon  Rising, Weissenburg, Germany. VG. $20

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Keystone. 12138. Attaching the long silk tube leading from the gas main to neck of the balloon. VG. $50

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Keystone. 12150. Attaching the basket weighted with sand-bags to the ring. VG. $50

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Keystone. 32062. Our Ambassador of the Air-Col. Lindbergh and Plane Spirit of St. Louis. VG. $25

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Underwood & Underwood. Japanese War Balloon in the rear of the besieging Army-Port Arthur. VG. $20

No ID. No. 137. Vue Instantanee de la Fete de St. Cloud. Grille du Parc. G+. $125

Keystone. 33371. Friedrichshafen, Germany, is the Home of the Zeppelin. VG. $100

Keystone. 37923. Assembling of Planes in an Airplane Factory at Wichita, Kansas. Rare, late Keystone image. Mint. $45

Keystone. 26408. Magellans of the Air-Six American Aviators who first Encircled Earth by Airplane, Welcomed upon Return Home. E. $20

Ruth Law, Aviatrix
A76. Presko Binocular Company, Chicago, Ill. 6138. Ruth Law, Renowned Aviatrix, Grant Park, Chicago. VG. $395

Art Smith and his Aeroplane
A81. Keystone. 17814-Art Smith and His Aeroplane on the Aviation Field, Panama-Pacific Int. Exp., San Francisco, Calif. G. $50

A86. [D.M. Stevens, Portland, Oregon]. The captive balloon at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, Portland, Oregon, VG. $75

A87. International View Co. The famous “California Arrow” Airship Starting with Aeronaut Knabenshue on Its First Successful Flight, World’s Fair, St. Louis. G. $100

A88. No ID. The Lincoln Portrait Balloon. On back is written “Hudson Square, Hudson, NY 1862.” I cannot verify the location of this image. I have added black and white and an enlarged scan in black and white in order to better show the image of Lincoln on the balloon. Rare. G. $375

A89. Zimmerman, St. Paul, Minn. Prof. King’s “Great Northwest” balloon, Minnesota State Fair. G. $150

A90. No ID. The Lincoln Portrait Balloon. Written on back is “Hudson Square, Hudson, NY 1862.” I cannot verify the location of this image. The portrait of Lincoln on the balloon is not visible as that side of the balloon is rotated away from front. The balloon is caught up on a building. You can see the aviator in his basket hanging below. VG. $375

A91. No ID. Donaldson’s Balloon Ascension, Detroit, Michigan. Born in Philadelphia in 1840 and named after the first and ninth presidents, Washington Harrison Donaldson, a handsome lad, craved the spotlight. As an adolescent, he perfected a macabre bit of legerdemain he figured would make him rich—beheading then reheading a man so his noggin appeared attached to the recently vacant neck. But Donaldson made the trick so gorily realistic that his performance had audiences recoiling in horror. He gave up Grand Guignol for tightrope walking, then tightrope dancing, then traversing the tightrope on a velocipede, a forerunner of the bicycle.

In 1862, after a stint in the Union Army, he thrilled a Philadelphia crowd by stretching a line 100 feet above the Schuylkill River, dancing on the rope, then diving into the water. He told reporters that if someone paid the freight he’d spend a week on the rope, eating, sleeping, and cooking meals aloft. Nobody bit, but his brass created buzz.

He had a gift for the gimmick. Declaring before one high-wire show that he was too sick to go on, he said wife Mary would fill in. A crowd looked on eagerly as a fashionably clad and hugely hatted feminine figure appeared overhead. Halfway across the tightrope, the damsel began removing garments and tossing them down. The striptease ended when the dress came off, revealing Donaldson in tights, bowing as the crowd cheered, delighted at being bamboozled. “People demand sensational spectacles,” he said. “Their taste must be gratified.”

After a decade on the tightrope, Donaldson got bored, and in 1871, he reinvented himself as a daredevil balloonist. Manned ballooning wasn’t new—two French brothers went aloft in 1783—and by the 1850s balloons were familiar attractions in America. Donaldson decided to pump up the excitement by merging aeronautics with acrobatics.

Aeronauts rode in woven baskets that hung beneath their balloons and in the early days contained a source of hot air to keep the gasbag aloft. But at mid-century, balloons got their inflation from the same coal gas piped to homes in most American cities and burned in furnaces. Donaldson replaced his basket with a trapeze bar. As the balloon rose, he hung by his knees, waving an American flag, then did a flip, catching himself with his feet. High above the crowd, he’d perform his acrobatic tricks. Then, as he deliberately deflated the balloon to descend, a man-size form would fall earthward, to gasps from the ground until audience members saw that the figure was a dummy rigged to release a blizzard of handbills—America’s first aerial advertising.

He took his airshow on the road: New York, New England, the Midwest. Daredevilry proved very popular—and very dangerous. Donaldson’s balloons burst, smashed into trees and smokestacks, plopped into ponds, lakes, and the Atlantic.  Frequently, they’d hit the ground, bounce, catch a breeze, and drag Donaldson through field and forest.

“I was crashed through the treetops for several miles,” he wrote in his diary after a mishap. “On I went, knocking a fence down, breaking a top board with my back, striking the ground, bouncing 60 or 70 feet high and striking again. It was fearful.” 

He survived multiple crashes with only minor injuries. Newspapers feasted on his misadventures—one dubbed him the “crazy balloonatic”—producing copy that swelled his audiences. Carried higher and higher by bigger and bigger balloons, he made a spectacle of himself in flesh-colored tights, purple shirt, and blue boots.

Then he reinvented himself again.

“I dislike the business of frightening people,” Donaldson announced in 1872. “I shall hereafter pay more attention to scientific ballooning.” His experience aloft convinced him that high-altitude air currents moved west to east. “I shall ascend to that current,” he promised, “and with it travel the 2,600 miles to Europe in about two days and a half.”

The New York Daily Graphic agreed to sponsor Donaldson’s flight if he’d bring along a reporter and an artist.

Amid voluminous hype, 12 seamstresses sewed an enormous muslin balloon designed to carry three men, their provisions, and—just in case—a 22-foot lifeboat. 

After several stutters, Donaldson and accomplices took off from Brooklyn on October 6, 1873, as thousands cheered. An hour later, 6,200 feet over Connecticut, the balloonists encountered a storm. Their conveyance bounced violently from a mile high to three feet off the ground and back up. Four hours after lift-off, the balloon crashed onto a Connecticut farm. Nobody was injured but the flight was an embarrassing failure; not until 1978 did a balloonist succeed in traversing the Atlantic.

Impressed with Donaldson’s hype, America’s reigning ballyhoo artist, P.T. Barnum, summoned the aeronaut. “I have the biggest circus on earth,” Barnum bragged. “That may be true,” Donaldson replied, “but my show is far above yours—at least a mile.” Or so Barnum’s publicists reported. The impresario hired Donaldson as an airborne advertisement. At the start of each performance in Barnum’s Hippodrome on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, Donaldson would ascend in a balloon christened P.T. Barnum and fly off, scattering leaflets touting Barnum’s circus.

When the circus went out on the road, Donaldson came along, taking local reporters on long balloon flights and reaping a bountiful harvest of publicity.

Barnum’s hoopla machine outdid itself in Cincinnati in October 1874, when Donaldson lifted off with a circus equestrienne, her fiancé, and a minister. The parson married the happy couple while a band played Mendelssohn’s wedding march and thousands of paying customers craned their necks to witness the world’s first aerial wedding. 

The commercial marriage of Donaldson and Barnum lasted two lucrative years, until July 15, 1875. That afternoon, the circus was in Chicago. Donaldson fired up his balloon for one of his publicity-stunt flights, accompanied this time by Newton Grimwood of the Chicago Evening Journal, and bound for the Michigan town of Grand Haven, 120 miles east across Lake Michigan.

Several hours later, occupants of a boat spotted the balloon passing low over the lake, its basket skipping on the waves. That night, a strong wind blew in. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed. Barnum’s publicist telegraphed the Coast Guard, begging for help. By dawn, the storm had abated and boats set out, searching sky and water. They found nothing. Days went by, then weeks. Cynics  called the disappearance of Donaldson and Grimwood another Barnum hoax.

On August 15, Grimwood washed ashore in Michigan, his corpse clad in a life preserver. Of Washington Donaldson and the balloon no trace was ever found.

Maybe they’re still up there, riding a zephyr through wispy clouds. (From https://www.historynet.com/washington-h-donaldson.htm). G. $150

A92. Underwood & Underwood. 12145-Top of partly filled balloon showing valve in place. E. $40

A93. Underwood & Underwood. 11229-Balloon in flight, showing carriage, passenger, silk net and escape valve. VG. $50

A94. Keystone. 12147-The nearly filled balloon and method of attaching ballast bags to net. E. $35

A95. Keystone. 32338. Inflation with Hydrogen Gas of a copy of First Balloon Flown in America, Jan. 9, 1793. Washington Air Junction, Va. VG. $35

A96. Keystone. 32339. Descendants of Washington Family at Dedication of George Washington Air Junction, Va. E. $50

A102. 957. Prof. King’s Balloon at Rochester, NY. VG. $125

A103. U&U. 11228. Curtis in his bi-plane, just ready for flight, Long Island, New York. G. $85

A104. U&U. 10577-Wright aeroplane in flight, Fort Myer, Va. VG. $125

A105. Keystone. 11773. Wright airplane ready for flight, Fort Myer, Va. VG. $125

A106. Keystone. 11774. Airplanes-Early Wright Airplane just leaving the Ground, 1904. VG. $150

A107. Keystone. 32739. Nose of Framework of ZRS-4 (U.S.S. Akron) from Inside of Hangar. VG. $35

A108. Keystone. 17397. Airplanes-The ZR-3 Entering the Hangar at Lakehurst, N.J. VG. $35

A110. Keystone. 32745. A Bow View of the Zeppelin Akron Showing the Outer Covering, Akron, Ohio. VG. $45

A111. Keystone. V18920. Bridgnet Michelin Bombarding Airplane, Ready to Ascend, France. VG. $20

A112. Keystone. 32277T. The Graf Zeppelin. VG. $45

A113. Keystone. 32341T. Ford Trimotor Cabin Plane Leaving Chicago with Passengers and Mail for Minneapolis, Minn. VG. $20

A114. Realistic Travels. Incessant, thrilling aerial combats secure us mastery in the air and blind the enemy artillery. VG. $20

A116. Air Show, Canton, Ohio, 1912. VG. $20

A117. Air Show, Canton, Ohio, 1912. VG. $25

A118. Air Show, Canton, Ohio, 1912. VG. $25

A121. U&U. Rival Air Ships, their inventors’ pride, ready for race to Washington, DC from World’s Fair, St. Louis, 1904. VG. $75

A122. Keystone. 11078. Airplanes-The Baldwin, early Dirigible, in flight. VG. $45

A123. Keystone. 26306. Airplanes-The Start of a Balloon Race, San Antonio, 1932. VG. $35

A124. U&U. Balloon Corps-ready to ascend for observation-Lord Roberts advancing on Pretoria, S.A., 1900. VG. $25

A126. Webster & Albee, Rochester, NY. 2543. Balloon Ascension, Ontario Beach. G. $25

A127. Universal View Co. William H. Rau. A Balloon Ascension, Dawson City, Klondike, 1900. G. $65