Fragments of silk used for making balloons

Object Number: 
INV.12235a-c
Date: 
1861-1862
Medium: 
Silk
Dimensions: 
Overall (a): 7 in. × 1 1/8 in. (17.8 × 2.9 cm) Overall (b): 4 1/2 in. × 3 1/2 in. (11.4 × 8.9 cm) Overall (c): 3 i
Marks: 
written: on note pinned to a: "First balloon built for/the U.S. 1861" written: on note pinned to b&c: "2 different pieces of silk/used in the manufacture/of Five balloons/Jany. 1862"
Description: 
Three silk swatches, two with fringed edges (b, c) of fabric used in making the first balloons in the United States.
Gallery Label: 
Both factions of the Civil War raced to incorporate new technologies into their military strategies. Hot-air balloons, first invented in 1783, were already allied with warfare: the French used balloons for reconnaissance in the 1790s during the French Revolutionary Wars, and again in 1859 at the Battle of Solferino. As the U.S. readied for war in early 1861, a handful of daredevil balloonists each offered their services, competing with publicity stunts and scientific endorsements to win favor with Abraham Lincoln and military leaders. The resulting Union Army Balloon Corps, led by Thaddeus Lowe and disbanded by summer 1863, commissioned Philadelphia seamstresses to construct balloon envelopes using double-thicknesses of the “best India silk,” which was varnished to make them leakproof. These three unvarnished silk swatches are said to be cut from fabrics used to make the first balloon in 1861 and five balloons in January 1862. The Confederacy’s ballooning efforts—one by a novice and two using envelopes made from bolts of patterned dress silks—were stymied due to lack of resources. The donation was accompanied by a letter from the Isaac F. Wood: #177 Second Avenue N.Y. January 25th 1881 Jacob F. Moore, Esq. Librarian N.Y. Historical Society Dear Sir, The accompanying pieces of silk professing to be from the earliest balloon [service?] material of the U.S. Government during the Civil War, are, if authentic, of perhaps sufficient reliquary interest to be added to the Historical Society collection. I have no reason to doubt their authenticity, but cannot verify it further than to state that I purchased them along with a lot of other "curious" in #268 of Bangs & Co. N.Y. auction sale catalogued by W.E. Woodward of Boston of the cabinet Dr. T.S. Hitchcock of Omaha Nebraska - said sale taking place January 14th inst. Respectfully yours, Isaac F. Wood
Credit Line: 
Gift of Isaac F. Wood, 1881
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group