Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jean-Pierre Blanchard, [c. April 1782]

From Jean-Pierre Blanchard2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

ce jeudy soir [c. April, 1782]3


Monsieur de sarsfield m’ayant annoncè que vous me feriez l’honneur de venir voir mon vaisseau Volant dèmain.4 J’ay l’honneur de vous donner avis, qu’ayant commencé a faire mettre la couverture de carton vous ne verrez absolument rien d’interessant la meccanique etant enfermée par cette envelope. Je ne pouray percer la place des Glaces et en ouvrir la porte que dans environ 8 jours, alors Monsieur sy a cette époque vous vouliez choisir un jour et une heure jauray l’honneur de vous recevoir, j’ay celuy dêtre très parfaitement Monsieur Votre très humble serviteur


Addressed: A Monsieur / Monsieur franklin / a Passy / Blanchard

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Blanchard (1750–1809), whose name is sometimes given as “François,” had spent 12 years trying to construct a flying machine. Though these various “vaisseaux volants” were unsuccessful, Blanchard established his place in the history of aeronautics by completing, with the American John Jeffries, the first balloon crossing of the English Channel and by pioneering the parachute: DBF; Encyclopœdia Britannica; Jour. de Paris, Aug. 28, 1781.

3Blanchard initially issued tickets for a public demonstration of his flying machine to be held on Sunday, April 28; he then rescheduled for the following Sunday, May 5: Jour. de Paris, May 1, 1782. The present letter seems to date from a time when he was engaged in the final construction tasks.

4Parisians had been visiting Blanchard’s workshop ever since the inventor aroused public curiosity and debate by describing his project in the Jour. de Paris on Aug. 28, 1781. The “vaisseau volant” was at that time shaped like a small boat, four feet long by two feet wide, that could hold two people. Two pairs of ten-foot-long wings would create a parasol 20 feet in diameter; the mechanics of locomotion were not detailed. Blanchard later modified that design, adding an outer layer to the body, the “couverture de carton” that he alludes to in the present letter. A witness at the May 5 viewing observed this covering (with a window and door cut in it) and described the vessel as resembling the body of a bird, with the bow shaped like a beak and the tiller, a tail. There were now six wings in all. Fore and aft wings would levitate the vessel, and two pairs of side wings would propel it. Certain lingering design flaws prevented Blanchard from demonstrating the machine to the enormous crowd that turned out, despite terrible weather, at the home of his patron the abbé de Vienné on May 5. He needed three more weeks, he said, during which no one would be allowed to visit the atelier. Despite large financial incentives promised by the comte d’Artois and the duc de Chartres if the “vaisseau” were to fly, Blanchard’s project failed, and it was rumored that he fled Paris with a substantial sum of the abbé’s money: Jour. de Paris, Jan. 14, April 4 (and issues cited there), and April 27, 1782; Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, XX, 142, 229–30, 232–4, 237; Métra, Correspondance secrète, XIII, 100.

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