If you think that extreme sports such as kite surfing are a recent invention, think again. According to Tom Crouch’s book Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of Balloons and Airships (2009), by the end of the nineteenth century the Free Balloon was not only popular in France, but was “attracting an entirely new class of enthusiasts on two continents.”
As Crouch explains, “a short voyage aloft, dangling beneath a colorfully decorated bag of hydrogen” – like the image depicted in the above poster – “proved just the ticket for a jaded young man with money in his pocket and a taste for adventure.” Likewise, this poster reminds that while entertainment like the circus and ballooning were sources of cultural fascination throughout France, the level of a Frenchman’s participation was dictated by his social status.
The Aéro Club de France became a favorite gathering place for one of the wealthiest and most fashionable social circles in fin-de-siècle Paris. Ballooning, for over a century the presence of aerial showmen, soldiers, and adventures, now became a sport appearing to wealthy dilettantes.