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John Steiner Balloon Ascension
1857, 18 June
Ambrotype, 1/4 plate
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Local number: XXXX-0617
Professor John H. Steiner emigrated from Germany in 1953 and quickly established himself as a daring aeronaut. Steiner's flight in 1857, the first attempt to fly to Canada across Lake Erie, made him famous . Due to adverse weather conditions, Steiner eventually was forced to jump into the lake and was rescued by the crew of the steamer Mary Stewart. His balloon was later found, in tatters, having successfully made it to Canada without its pilot. During the Civil War, Steiner served as a balloonist for the Union forces with Thaddeus S.C. Lowe's Balloon Corps. As a civilian in 1863, Steiner gave a tethered balloon ride to German officer, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was on leave as a military observer with Union army. Years later, after Count Zeppelin's rigid airships had flown over the cities of Europe, Zeppelin recalled his flight with Steiner as his inspiration.
This quarter-plate ambrotype made by an unknown photographer, shows the balloon ascension by John Steiner at Erie, Pennsylvania, on June 18, 1857. The scene pictured is the first attempt to fly to Canada across Lake Erie. This ambrotype, which shows men ringing the balloon as it is inflated outdoors, is thought to be the earliest dated photographic image of a balloon ascension in the United States.