Lead Balloon

Saturday, 11 February 2012

This little story won't be in the book because it falls outside my period, but I thought it was too good not to share...

Durs Egg (b.1748) was a Swiss-born gunsmith, famous for his flintlock pistols, who established his business in London in 1772, and who was patronised by King George III. In 1815, he and fellow gun-maker Jean Samuel Pauly patented a design for a 90-foot-long airship called the 'Dolphin'. It would be a fish-shaped contraption (or 'dirigible flying fish'), and the design incorporated a system of trimmable ballast, which would shift the centre of gravity using either a water-filled barrel, or a box filled with sand, depending upon which account you believe.

Construction began in Knightsbridge between 1816 and 1817, but the project was never completed due to a dispute which arose between Pauly and Egg. They fell out over an agreement they had drawn up concerning the manufacture of a breech-loading gun system, but the document also dealt with the building of the Dolphin. The lawsuit dragged on from 1817 to 1820, and the project fizzled out, becoming known as 'Egg's Folly'. Egg died mad, blind and bankrupt in 1831.

The story doesn't quite end there. In 1844, the famous dwarf, Tom Thumb (an associate of the world-famous showman P.T.Barnum), used the Dolphin's skin air bladder to make a captive balloon ascent at the Surrey Zoological Gardens.

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Publication date: November 2014
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