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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of September 3, 1999

This week, facts about... weather balloons. They are in widespread use today, but in Benjamin Franklin’s time weather balloons were regarded with skepticism, even fear.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Twice a day, hundreds of weather balloons are released around the world at exactly the same time. They rise several miles into the atmosphere, carrying devices which measure air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. It was on September third in 1872 that the U.S. Weather Bureau sent up its first balloon to take atmospheric measurements. Weather balloons had long been in Europe but, until then, Americans preferred kites for their atmospheric investigations. The American anti-balloon, pro-kite sentiment likely stems from none other than Benjamin Franklin, famous for tempting lightning with a kite-flown key in a thunderstorm. Mr. Franklin was America's witness to the first hydrogen balloon launch in Paris. At first, he was quite impressed by the balloon and at the possible scientific applications. But after it drifted several miles outside of Paris, the balloon burst and landed in a small village. Mr. Franklin's recollections of the event reveal how little understood these new flying contraptions were. In his words: "The country people who saw it fall were frightened, and attacked it with stones and knives. So it was much mangled." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

 

 

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