1859 : First Hot Air Balloon Ascension in Grand Rapids

July 4, 2018 all-day

Professor William D. Bannister is credited with the birth of flight in Grand Rapids, ascending in the hot air balloon Pride of America at 5 p.m. on July 4th, 1859. On the day before the Grand Rapids Eagle warned the public not to shoot off fireworks near the balloon or burn any other combustibles near the launch site site since it was to be inflated with gas and fire or sparks could have disastrous consequences. Many city residents found purchases on roofs in the town to follow the balloon’s flight of 3 miles to the west.

Balloon ascensions proved to be quite popular throughout the end of the nineteenth century, but were often risky, with a number of deaths noted.

For more information about early balloon flights see Gordon G. Beld, The Early Days of Aviation in Grand Rapids. Charleston, S.C. : History Press, 2012. Available through MelCat.

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