Xalapa: this was the historic first hot air balloon flight in America, 240 years ago

In Xalapa the feat of the first hot air balloon trip in all of America was experienced. The event is considered a milestone in the history of Mexico and the world.

XALAPA, VER.- On May 18, 2024, it will be 240 years since in Mexico, and throughout the continent of America, a person flew for the first time aboard a hot air balloon. The idea was pioneering in Europe, however, the event that occurred in Xalapa marked a milestone in the history of the country and the world, due to the lack of technologies for rapid dissemination of information, as well as for its manufacturing.

The first hot air balloon flight occurred on May 18, 1784, by José María Alfaro Guiles. Veracruz master, scholar of the arts, engineering and inventor, he is considered one of the most prominent figures in the history of Xalapa and to whom he is credited with the repair of the Cathedral clock, machinery manufactured in London.

Xalapa Antiguo, Analysis and Opinion, a page of expert historians dedicated to the dissemination of historical facts about the city, dates back to the first hot air balloon trip from Xalapa to Coatepec. The little information that is preserved is cited from the Gazeta de México and the book The Ancient and Modern History of Jalapa and the Revolutions of the State of Veracruz, by Manuel Rivera Cambas.

La Gazeta de México published on May 19, 1784:

“An aerostat balloon was manufactured in this town similar to the one reported in similar magazines from Madrid, worked by José María Alfaro: it consists of 18 Castilian rods and is believed to have the desired effect, according to the arrangement and care with which it has been built, which will be notified to the public”.

The balloon was raised using hot air and its cover was made of waterproof material.

“Alfaro’s merit derives from having built his own balloon from the little news that was available on the continent, when he did not yet have the tools of what would become aeronautics. For the time, getting on a balloon and letting the current of air guide you was a bit like the sailboats of the sea, gentle if the current was gentle and reckless if it was strong,” says Xalapa Antiguo.

This was the feat
On the other hand, Volare, a company dedicated to hot air balloon flight experiences and events, confirms that it was in Xalapa where one was flown throughout America, with José María Alfaro Guiles in charge.

The first balloon flight was made in the country of Portugal, Lisbon, by Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão on August 8, 1709. The invention of the hot air balloon as such is attributed to the brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne, in France, in 1783. Just one year later, Alfaro Guiles took flight in Xalapa.

Volare narrates that José María Alfaro experimented with “small balloons” made of paper, with different techniques and materials, until he managed to create a sphere that rose with a light inside, similar to those we know today as cantoya balloons. At night, these helped him see the behavior of the air and its direction.

“On May 18, 1784, a determined José María Alfaro Guiles set out with a balloon approximately 10 meters high and with capacity for 2 people, he left for the brotherhood of San José, to the plains of Los Berros, accompanied by a festive atmosphere, since no resident of Xalapa wanted to miss the reckless action. The expectant people, upon seeing that the balloon reached its size, began to applaud non-stop; half of the feat was accomplished.”

According to the company, the trip that began from Los Berros, in Xalapa, ended in the current municipality of Coatepec, with a route of around 9 kilometers, at a height of 800 meters above ground level.

Source: lasillarota