Ambitious, But Not Very Practical…

The first manned balloon flights were in 1783, and almost immediately the question of feeding the courageous aeronauts arose. The Belgian mathematician and engineer Étienne-Gaspard Robert, a dilettante inventor whose most famous creation was the magic lantern show, an early type of image projection, proposed this craft in the year 1804:

Minerva Balloon 1804

Minerva Balloon 1804

This balloon, called the Minerva, was intended to carry 150,000 pounds and accommodate 60 passengers. Among the items that were provided in the various rooms were an observatory, gymnasium, pilot house, doctor’s office, theatre, study, and, most to the point of this website, “The kitchen, far removed from the balloon. It is the only place where a fire shall be permitted.”

It would be easy to dismiss Robert, who also performed as a stage magician under the name Doctor Robertson, except for the fact that he was a keen scientist who also made many balloon ascents to observe natural phenomena. He took pigeons and butterflies to high altitudes to observe them, tested the evaporation of water and ether at different heights, measured air pressure, and tried many other experiments. Unfortunately he was not an astute observer, and many of his conclusions were wrong. He and an assistant once got to over 23,000 feet and set a height record, nearly freezing to death and asphyxiating in the process.

It is obvious to a modern observer that the Minerva could never have flown, but the fact that Robert had been thoughtful about the placement of the kitchen shows him to be the first to consider the problems of cooking in flight.