Episode 20A: Sophie Blanchard

Our subject for this minicast is a woman who let her adventurous life soar! High above France, Sophie Blanchard was the first female professional balloonist and given the title “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals” by Napoleon Bonaparte during his reign.

Sophie Blanchard

Born March 25, 1778, Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant was, by the few accounts of her, a nervous, petite and unremarkable woman…that is until her marriage to Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Blanchard, a professional balloonist was looking for a new gimmick and found it in his wife. We speculate as to what type of conversation it would take to get a woman like this into a balloon basket, but up she went, the first woman to take to the skies in this new -fangled, and dangerous, contraption. She as the first woman balloon pilot as well as the first professional female balloonist.

Hold on tight, Sophie!

We discuss early ballooning, what type of antics the competition of the Blanchards were up to, and exactly how scary these flights must have been during this time. In 1809 Jean-Pierre died in a ballooning accident and Sophie took over his business.

For as brave and daring as her husband was, he left his business in a financial pickle. Sophie did her best to cut corners and created some new ballooning stunts which she performed all over Europe, sometimes, to disastrous results. We cover those in the podcast, of course. But none were more disastrous than her last flight over the Tivoli Gardens in Paris in 1819. And by “last flight” yeah, we mean last anything. Sophie perished at the age of 41 doing the one thing that she had excelled in before any other woman.

A daylight ascension – 1810

The last show, 1819.

We discuss an indie, animated documentary about Sophie that is in production. Here is a link to the site about this project. We have not seen it, have not contributed, were not asked to talk about it but are very excited about the premise so we link you up here!
Interested in finding out a little bit more about the history of ballooning?

And we know you like books! Here is one you might enjoy!


The Little Balloonist, by Linda Donn