Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wise, John (aëronaut)

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WISE, John, aëronaut, b. in Lancaster, Pa., 24 Feb., 1808; d. in Lake Michigan, 28 or 29 Sept., 1879. His first ascension from Philadelphia, Pa., on 2 May, 1835, was short and uneventful. During his next, on 4 July, 1835, from Lebanon, Pa., he attempted to open the valve on the top of the balloon, but lost control, and it burst, compelling him to descend. On 1 Oct., 1835, he attempted an ascension from Lancaster, Pa., but was thrown from the car and became unconscious while the balloon ascended alone, and on 7 May, 1836, he ascended again from Lancaster, and landed in Harford county, Md., about seventy-five miles distant. While he was emptying the car of its cargo an explosion of the gas occurred, burning the aëronaut severely. He made a voyage from Philadelphia, Pa., on 18 Sept., 1837, alighting in Delaware river, where he was rescued. On this trip he set loose two parachutes for the purpose of demonstrating the superiority of the inverted parachute. In October, 1837, he ascended again from Philadelphia, and alighted in New Jersey, forty miles from his starting-point. He left Easton, Pa., 11 Aug., 1838, and when he had reached the height of 13,000 feet his balloon burst, and in less than ten seconds all the gas had escaped. The balloon descended rapidly with an oscillating motion, and, on reaching the earth, rebounded, throwing Mr. Wise ten feet from the car. He next advertised that on 1 Oct., 1838, he would ascend and in the air would convert his balloon into a parachute, which feat he successfully accomplished. On 4 July, 1840, he entered into competition with William Paullin for a record of the highest and longest balloon ascension, but was defeated. In June, 1843, he announced his intention of crossing the Atlantic in the summer of 1844, advancing the theory that there was a constant air-current from west to east 12,000 feet above the ocean; but he failed to secure an appropriation from congress for the purpose, and was compelled to abandon the project. In August, 1846, during an ascension from West Chester, Pa., he entered a thunder-cloud, and, on descending, his car was struck by lightning, but he escaped. During an ascent, on 15 Aug., 1851, from Zanesville, Ohio, he made experiments on the action of falling bodies, and found that they all spin upon their axes. A light, empty pint-bottle fell in a large spiral, giving out a musical sound in its descent, and turning slowly on an axis as it came down. On 5 Sept., 1851, he ascended from Columbus, Ohio, and found himself entering a stratum, 10,000 feet in height, that was highly electrical and agitated by “convulsionary air-wheels.” All parts of the balloon-rigging acquired musical properties, the various cords giving forth sounds similar to those of a stringed instrument. At sunset he saw the clouds tinted with the colors of the rainbow, and, although more than a mile high, heard the voices of persons below in conversation. This voyage was beneficial to his health, which had been much impaired. In 1851 he petitioned congress for an appropriation of $20,000 for the purpose of constructing a large air-ship with which to demonstrate the possibility of destroying any fleet, fort, or army by means of explosive missiles thrown from the car, and also the possibility of crossing the ocean. The petition was referred to the naval committee and never reported on. Thereafter he continued to make occasional ascensions until 1859, when they numbered about 230. In that year, with John La Mountain and others, he made the celebrated voyage from St. Louis to Jefferson county, N. Y., a description of which is given in the article La Mountain. From September, 1871, till July, 1872, he was librarian of the Franklin institute. He then revived his project of crossing the Atlantic, and made efforts to raise funds for a balloon and equipment, but without success until the enterprise was taken up by the “Daily Graphic,” of New York city. (See Donaldson, Washington H.) Soon after this failure he removed to Louisiana, Mo., intending to devote the remainder of his life to farming; but he was unable to resist the fascination of ballooning, and announced an ascension from St. Louis, Mo., 28 Sept., 1879. With several companions, in a new balloon named the “Pathfinder,” he set out at the appointed time, intending to stay in the air as long as he could. The balloon moved in a northeasterly direction, and was last seen at Carlinville, Ill. From that time no tidings were ever received from the aëronauts, but several weeks later the body of one of the party was washed ashore on Lake Michigan. It is supposed that they perished during one of the sudden tempests of that region, and, like Donaldson and others, were drowned in the waters of the great lake. Mr. Wise published a “System of Aëronautics” (Philadelphia, 1850).