Science Art: Rufus Porter’s “Travelling Balloon,” later renamed the “aeroport,” from Mechanics magazine, Nov. 8, 1834

Scientific illustration of Rufus Porter's airship, dubbed the "aeroport"

Scientific illustration of Rufus Porter's airship, dubbed the "aeroport"

This airship is a kind of ancestor of the blimp or dirigible, designed by 19th-century American artist and inventor Rufus Porter, who’s perhaps best remembered today not for his drawings nor inventions, but for founding the magazine Scientific American.

From the Linda Hall Library’s “Scientist of the Day” entry (where I found this illustration):

He envisioned filling up a 500-foot-long balloon with hydrogen gas, which he calculated would provide enough lift to carry one hundred passengers, along with their baggage and provisions. The entire apparatus would be pushed forward by a steam-driven propeller, allowing the craft to travel at speeds of fifty miles per hour.

Porter built working models of his airship (or “aeroport,” as he called it) during the 1840s and 1850s and even petitioned the U.S. Senate to sponsor the construction of a full-scale dirigible. When the government refused his request, he established the Aerial Navigation Company, which offered investors the chance to support his work for the cost of $5 per share. This funding proved sufficient to begin construction, but ultimately Porter’s aeroport never got off the ground.