President Lincoln’s Drones Could Fly 500 Miles in 1861

Abe Lincoln balloon

Thaddeus Lowe, a private hot air balloon pilot in 1861, launched his hot air balloon from the front lawn of The White House. He ran a telegraph wire across the lawn from his hot air balloon directly into The White House. In the service room of The White House, an extremely excited Morse Code operator awaited a message from aloft. Sent from 500 ft above The White House, the following message caused president Lincoln to form the Balloon Corps, and named Thaddeus Lowe its Chief Aeronaut.

Balloon Enterprise. Washington, D.C. 16 June 1861

To President United States: This point of observation commands an area nearly fifty miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station and in acknowledging indebtedness to your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the service of the country. T.S.C. Lowe”

Letter to Lincoln

Within a month of this momentous demonstration, President Lincoln called for the Balloon Corps to build 80 gas balloons. Lowe’s gas balloons would go on to ascend over 3000 times during the Civil War, giving generals pertinent surveillance information about Confederate whereabouts.

Hot air balloon whitehouse

If you would like to learn more about Lincoln’s Hot Air Balloon Airforce, Check out this great video from the Smithsonian.

In 1861, most balloons were filled with some type of lighter-than-air gas. Lowe actually created and patented his own portable gas generators to fill Civil War balloons. Here in Seattle, Seattle Ballooning mainly uses our balloons for luxury hot air balloon rides, although if we are ever called up, we will be the first to join the balloon corps. Hope you enjoyed this rare piece of little known balloon history!

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Eliav C.
About the Author

Chief pilot of Seattle Ballooning. I get the opportunity to provide luxury hot air balloon rides just South of Seattle in front of Mt. Rainier. When you do what you love, it’s not considered work.

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