Wise was born in Lancaster on February 24, 1808. As a youth, he was tutored by noted Episcopalian Augustus Muhlenberg, but claimed to have been dissuaded by the Lord Himself from pursuing continued theological study. Instead, he turned his attention to the lower skies, devising ways to attach kittens to kites for the purposes of meteorological experimentation. A language barrier prevented the collection of much useful observation. Undaunted, Wise instead devised a method of stitching cloth into a enormous sack, shellacking it, filling it with homebrewed hydrogen, and tying himself to it. As a consequence, the ballooning pioneer survived multiple explosions, and also discovered the jet stream.
Wise wrote two books: A System of Aeronautics (1850), and Through the Air (1873). Vernian in spirit and Melvillian in ambition, these were among the first works ever to grasp the inevitability of modern air travel. He is sometimes credited with carrying the first piece of air mail, and also of firing the first airborne weapon in a theater of war. Both claims are tenuous.
Dismissing the westward lust of his contemporaries, Wise devoted his mature years to the (unrequited) dream of an eastward Trans-Atlantic balloon crossing. He died aged 71, disappearing over Lake Michigan after alighting from East St. Louis, Missouri.
The illustrations in both books are a steampunk’s wet dream. Continue reading