Difficult childhood fosters independent spirit

Thaddeus Soieski Constantine Lowe was born in Coos County, New Hampshire, on August 20, 1832, to a family whose ancestors had fought in the Revolutionary War (1776-83). His parents, Clovis and Alpha Lowe, had four other children in addition to Thaddeus. By the time he was ten years old they decided that they could no longer provide for all of them. They arranged to hire Thaddeus out to a neighboring farmer who agreed to provide him with food, shelter, and adult guidance in exchange for work. Saddened

"[I] would lie in a field or sit astride a picket fence, gazing for hours at the great white clouds hanging like banners or floating slowly across the skies."

Thaddeus Lowe in one of his balloons. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

at the idea of separation from his parents and siblings, Lowe reluctantly went off to live with his new guardians.

Lowe was treated poorly by the farmer and his wife. They were harsh disciplinarians who behaved as if he were their personal servant. They refused his requests for books to read and made little effort to provide for his education. Lowe, though, was very curious about the world around him. He borrowed books whenever he was able, and spent long hours exploring the neighboring countryside. Years later, Lowe recalled that he loved to look up into the sky during these excursions. "[I] would lie in a field or sit astride a picket fence, gazing for hours at the great white clouds hanging like banners or floating slowly across the skies," he said. Lowe's early interest in the sky and its mysterious properties eventually grew into a deep fascination with ballooning and aerial navigation.

By the time that Lowe was eleven years old, he had become so unhappy on the farm that he decided to run away. He chose the Fourth of July as his day of departure because of its status as a symbol of independence. He set out alone into the world with a small bag of belongings and eleven cents. He spent the next several years in small farming communities and Portland, Maine, before moving to Boston, Massachusetts.

Lowe spent his teenage years working at a variety of odd jobs in order to feed and clothe himself. But even though he had to devote a great deal of his time and energy to these jobs, he worked hard to increase his knowledge of chemistry and other subjects. His interest in the skies also remained strong, and he began using kites and balloons to conduct various experiments in aeronautics (the study of aircraft navigation).

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