Early aeronauts tried to respond to this challenge in two ways. On the one hand, many early balloons included a rudder and oars (much wider than the oars used in boats today) intended to enable the aeronaut to steer the balloon through the skies. On the other hand, anticipating the aircraft design that would one day follow, some participants in these debates argued that the balloons (and the baskets underneath them) should be shaped in an oblong manner, like a fish or (as one publication suggested) a bird. The image shown here retains the standard shape of the balloon but includes both a rudder and the equivalent of paddlewheels, which could be operated from the carriage.
Some critics, anticipating similar debates today, rejected the idea that ballooning must be proven to be useful in any sort of practical way. “What is the use of a new-born child,” Benjamin Franklin famously responded when asked about ballooning’s utility. It was enough, they insisted, that it be embraced as an exciting example of the fruits of curiosity-driven research without demanding that it be translated into applied knowledge. But for those who felt the need to respond to this challenge to demonstrate ballooning’s usefulness, devices for steering them remained a crucial and intriguing element of the technological challenge.