Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

History Currently in the Making

July 27, 2016 Innovation Impact

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Balloonist Jean Piccard Visiting Menlo Park Laboratory in Greenfield Village, November 1933. THF231520

Earlier this week, Bertrand Piccard, great-nephew of Jean Piccard, finished a team attempt to fly the first solar-powered airplane to successfully circumnavigate the world by landing where the journey started in Abu Dhabi. The Piccard family name is one well known in the collections of The Henry Ford - our collection contains a shortwave radio receiver, custom-built by William Duckwitz for ground communication during the Piccard Stratosphere Flight. The knobs, wires and tubes are typical of a DIY ethos. In 1934, a lightweight metal gondola—carrying the husband and wife exploration team Jean and Jeanette Piccard— rose up from the ground at Ford Airport. The gondola was carried aloft by a hydrogen-filled balloon, (safely) crash-landing over 250-miles away later that day, in Cadiz, Ohio.

Who was manning the gondola below the hydrogen-filled balloon? Jeannette Piccard, a streetwise woman with impressive credentials. She was the first woman to be licensed as a balloon pilot and became the first American woman to enter the stratosphere and, technically speaking, space. Piccard once said: “When you fly a balloon, you don’t file a flight plan; you go where the wind goes. You feel like part of the air. You almost feel like part of eternity, and you just float along.”

To see more artifacts related to Jean and Jeannette Piccard’s stratosphere flight, take a look at our digital collections. You can learn more about Bertrand Piccard’s solar-powered airplane mission here.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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