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John Jeffries. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B015712).

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Jeffries, John (05 February 1745–16 September 1819), physician, surgeon, and the first American to fly, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of David Jeffries, Boston’s treasurer for more than thirty years, and Sarah Jaffrey. Jeffries was named for a wealthy uncle who arranged for his early education. He entered Harvard College in 1759, receiving his master of arts with honors in 1763. He studied medicine with ...

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King, Samuel Archer (09 April 1828–03 November 1914), balloonist, was born in Tinicum, Pennsylvania, the son of Isaac B. King, a physician; his mother’s name is unknown. In 1859 he married Margaret Roberts; they had two children.

Little is known of his early life except that he began his aeronautical career inauspiciously in 1851 with a near-fatal balloon ascent in Philadelphia. Undaunted, King tried again the next day, this time with more success. Eventually he totaled more than 450 flights as he thrilled thousands at Fourth of July exhibitions and state fairs. But King was more than a showman; he was an innovator widely credited with being the top aeronaut (balloonist) in the days before ...

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La Mountain, John (1830–14 February 1870), aeronaut, was born in Lansingburgh, New York. His surname is sometimes rendered as Lamountane. Little is known of La Mountain’s childhood, family life, and education. Apparently his father died while La Mountain was young, and he left school to support himself and his mother. There is evidence that he was at one time a seaman....

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Piccard, Jean Félix (28 January 1884–28 January 1963), aeronautical engineer and chemist noted for his stratospheric balloon flights, was born in Basel, Switzerland. He and his twin brother, Auguste Piccard, were the sons of Jules Piccard, a chemist, and Hélène Haltenhoff. Their careers and activities were joined, although for much of their lives they were thousands of miles apart. They both enjoyed an excellent education, graduating from the Obere Realschule in 1902 and attending the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich, one of the best universities in the country. Their father, a professor of chemistry and head of the department at the University of Basel, had no difficulty ensuring their attendance at this school. They graduated in 1907, Jean with a degree in chemical engineering, and both went on to graduate work at the institute, where in 1909 they received doctorates; Jean’s was in organic chemistry....

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Wise, John (24 February 1808–29 September 1879), balloonist, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of William Weiss (occupation unknown) and Margaret Trey. Educated in both German and English, the nationalities of his parents, he attended local schools and graduated from the Lancaster high school. Following the custom of the third generation in immigrant families of Lancaster County, he anglicized his last name. From his sixteenth to his twenty-first years, he was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, and until 1835 he was a piano maker. Then, from 1836 to 1847, he worked for a firm that produced scientific instruments....