The first practical hot-air balloon was invented in 1782 by two French brothers, Jacques Étienne and Joseph Michel Montgolfier, wealthy papermakers of Annonay, France. In a second balloon flight in June 1783 the two men sent up a paper-lined linen balloon that rose 1,800 m (6,000 ft). In August of the same year the French physicist, chemist, and aeronaut Jacques Alexandre César Charles released a balloon filled with hydrogen, which made a successful two-hour flight, covering 43 km (27 mi). In November the first piloted flight occurred when the French physicist Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier and his companion, the Marquis D’Arlandes, ascended in a hot-air balloon built by the Montgolfier brothers, from the Bois de Boulogne, a park in Paris. Rozier’s first ascent was in a balloon with ropes attached to the ground. Later he went up in a free balloon without ropes. In December the first piloted flight in a hydrogen-filled balloon was made from the Tuileries gardens in Paris.
By the end of 1783 balloon mania had taken over in France and soon spread throughout the continent and England. Cities vied with each other to build the biggest or prettiest balloons and to fly higher and longer. Hot-air balloons were more maneuverable, but the hydrogen balloons flew for longer periods. In 1785 Rozier attempted to cross the English Channel in a balloon combining a hydrogen-filled bag above a hot-air balloon. The hydrogen caught fire, and Rozier and his copilot were killed. The balloon design, called a Roziere, was rarely used for the next 200 years but its revival made history, enabling balloonists to circumnavigate the globe for the first time.
Balloons are used primarily for two purposes: sport or scientific research. Sport balloons mostly use hot air. They range from 10 to 20 m (33 to 66 ft) in size when the envelope or bag is inflated. Scientific balloons generally use hydrogen, helium, methane, or ammonia. They range in size from 30 to 200 m (100 to 660 ft) when fully inflated.
In 1785 the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard, accompanied by John Jeffries, an American, made the first balloon crossing of the English Channel. Blanchard also made the first balloon ascent in North America, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1793. The next century saw the use of balloons flourish for sport and celebration. In 1836 The Great Balloon of Nassau, with a capacity of 2,410 cu m (85,000 cu ft), sailed 800 km (500 mi) from London to Weilburg, Germany, in 18 hours.