Balloons have always been a feature at parties and events encompassing birthdays, weddings, corporate functions and just about everything in between but have you ever wondered about the history of balloons? Originally they were made from animal bladders, intestines and entrails. Some of these when blown up were even strong enough to be manipulated into various entertaining shapes. The Aztecs used the bowels of cats to create balloons in the shape of animals to offer as a sacrifice to the gods. When cats were in short supply human sacrifices were made. Jesters also used balloon sculpting in their act using fresh intestines to entertain the court where they wowed the crowd with their amusing shapes.
Fortunately, in 1824 Professor Michael Faraday who was experimenting with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London invented the first rubber balloons and was delighted to find that once filled with hydrogen they were light enough to float. He made his balloons by cutting out circles of rubber which when pressed together fused to form a tightly sealed bond. He coated the centre of the circles in powder so that they would only join around the edges. This produced a round bag that he could then fill with hydrogen.
The following year English inventor and rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock seized this idea and made the first toy balloons which were sold as a do it yourself kit using a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe. The problem with early rubber balloons was that the rubber reacted to changes in temperature so was unreliable. Hancock experimented with sulphur mixed with rubber and found that this stabilised the rubber and named this process vulcanisation. Vulcanized toy balloons were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847.
Hydrogen balloons, although popular were also extremely dangerous. Always at risk from exploding they could and did start fires and in 1914 firemen were campaigning to get them banned. New York city banned their use in 1922. Despite this they were still very popular and were used in balloon races and by aviation experts to calculate air flow at different altitudes. Helium balloons replaced hydrogen as this is a much safer gas and this led to the development of foil balloons and mylar balloons as an addition to the traditional rubber. These types of balloons have more scope for decoration and design and are self sealing.
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