Lowes most famous flight

In early 1861, Lowe abandoned his efforts to cross the Atlantic in favor of a flight across America's heartland. He and several other leading scientists believed that this flight would prove their theory that an eastward flowing air stream existed in the upper levels of the atmosphere, and that this air stream could someday be used to float across the ocean to Europe. Early in the morning of April 20, 1861, Lowe launched his bold experiment. Departing from Cincinnati, Ohio, he rose skyward until he was almost three miles above the earth. Just as he and his fellow scientists expected, he en-

Thaddeus Lowe sets up balloon gas generators near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis.)

Thaddeus Lowe sets up balloon gas generators near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis.)

tered into a powerful air stream that carried him steadily eastward. His exhilarating voyage carried him over the Allegheny Mountains at altitudes that sometimes exceeded four and a half miles above the earth's surface. He finally landed outside Unionville, South Carolina, nine hours later, only to be taken into custody as a Union spy.

Lowe, as it turned out, had launched his flight in the opening days of the American Civil War. This conflict between the nation's Southern and Northern states began in April 1861. The two sides had become extremely angry with one another over the years, especially over the issue of slavery. Many Northerners believed that slavery was immoral. Some people wanted to outlaw it, while others wanted the Federal government to stop it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played a big role in the Southern economy and culture, and white Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. They did not want the national government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life. The two sides finally went to war in the spring of 1861 when the Southern states tried to secede from (leave) the United States and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America.

When Lowe first landed in South Carolina, he worried that he might be thrown into prison or even executed. The local townspeople who watched him land had never seen anything like his balloon before, and they viewed its "Yankee" (Northerner) owner with suspicion and alarm. They grew even more doubtful of his truthfulness when he insisted that he had flown all the way from Cincinnati, more than nine hundred miles away. But Lowe finally convinced them of his honesty when he pulled out a Cincinnati newspaper that explained the details of his flight. The Southern authorities promptly released him and his balloon. But when he returned North, he made his way to Washington, D.C., to volunteer his balloon expertise to the Union cause.

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