Thaddeus Lowe: Daredevil Balloonist

May 31, 2015

balloon-over-vienna-virginia-2Thaddeus didn’t just do things, he was a “daredevil.” His actions or “derring-do” were called bold and brave “exploits.”

These descriptions of Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe and his actions formed as a result of his role as a civilian aeronaut, a balloonist for the Union Army, engaged in aerial surveillance during the Civil War.

Curator Michael Patris summarizes Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe’s life in these words:

“With little more than a grammar school education and an unquenchable thirst for science, he built what was for many years the world’s largest balloon to attempt a trans-Atlantic flight. Eventually he held more than 200 patents, heated and illuminated nearly two-thirds of all the homes in the United States with his “Lowe Gas Process,” developed ice-making machinery, and built a railway in Southern California’s Sierra Madre (now San Gabriel) Mountains called the Mount Lowe Railway.”



Handbill from 1860; from the Michael Patris Collection, currently on display at PMH


On June 4th, Patris will present an illustrated lecture and in-depth discussion at the Pasadena Museum of History “exploring Lowe’s escapades.” Doors open at 6:00 pm for a wine and cheese reception and viewing of the Thaddeus Lowe exhibition, as well as of the surrounding displays in the exhibit “When Johnny Came Marching Home: How the Civil War Shaped Pasadena.”


Lowe ascends in the balloon Intrepid, Seven Pines, 1862; photo by Matthew Brady, public domain

Lowe ascends in the balloon Intrepid, 1862; photo by Matthew Brady, public domain


Thaddeus Lowe: Daredevil Balloonist
Thursday, June 4th, 6 p.m.
PMH, 470 W. Walnut St. (corner Orange Grove Blvd. and Walnut St.), Pasadena 91103
Tickets (price includes lecture, exhibits, and reception): $15, PMH members; $20, general are Purchase tickets online at BrownPaperTickets
Advance tickets recommended; seating limited
Free parking is available in the Museum lot (entrance on Walnut St.) and on Walnut St
For additional information, visit
Or call 626.577.1660



Photo by M. B. Brady, 1862


Lowe's balloon gas generators, Washington D.C., circa 1861; U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lowe’s balloon gas generators, Washington D.C., circa 1861; U.S. National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




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