(Balthasar Anton Dunker, 1784)

In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers launched the first hot air balloon. Their triumph over the skies produced a craze for these floating marvels and gave rise to innumerable fantasies of a future shaped by air travel. The print “Aerostate de Poste” of 1784 pictures the air mail vehicle of the future: the number 2440 seen below the crown references the future society of Louis-Sébestien Mercier’s The Year 2440 (though no such balloon appears in the novel). Equipped for far more than delivering mail, this postal balloon offers a veritable compendium of technological essentials for the period. In addition to scientific instruments (the telescope on the left) and military equipment (the canon on the right), the balloon carries a “great organ for use in serenades.” Of all musical instruments, the organ best symbolized technological complexity, grandeur, and communication with the heavens. Built into the air ship, its pipes visible under the harp-like curve at the bow, the organ unites music and transportation, offering an imaginary predecessor to the steamboat calliope and the car radio.
Image: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum