Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum

Preserving aviation's past for future generations.

1835 State of Ohio Bureau Messenger Story

—The first “unofficial” airmail delivery in the United States takes place in Cincinnati. On July 4, Richard Clayton, a well-known balloonist of the 19th century, ascended in a hot-air balloon and carried with him a small package of mail. The event was part of a Fourth of July celebration

 In the year 1836, eighty-seven years ago a man of the name of Richard Clayton sailed from Cincinnati, Ohio in a balloon and landed on a sport of Keeney's Knob over looking our settlement. The anchor of his balloon was loosed in the Queen City at five o'clock p.m. and at 2:00 o'clock the same night his balloon caught in a tree on his descent after crossing the main top of the mountain. Mr. Clayton climbed down the tree and lay at its roots till morning. When morning dawned he climbed back up the mountain, so as to get a more commanding view of the surrounding country and to his surprise he discovered a river in the valley below and while he saw nothing but unbroken forest he reasoned that possibly there was a settlement along the river valley, so he made his way in that direction.

After traveling some two miles he came to a cabin occupied by the name of Gill, they being very poor seemed to be unable or unwilling to give him any assistance so they conducted him northward about two miles to the home of Joseph Graham. With the assistance of the Graham family and perhaps others including the Gills they started in search of the balloon.

The first days search was without success. On the second day the balloon was located in the tree (the writer has it from the mouth of John Gill when he was a very old man that some of his family found the balloon the first day but did not reveal it. When asked why he kept it a secret he replied that they wanted to see what "the result would be". It looks as if graft were at least thought of in those days). After climbing the tree and releasing the balloon it was let down by ropes and carried to the home of the Grahams.

It is said the news of the balloonist spread rapidly and for the next day or two people came for miles to view this strange unheard of monster of the air. Many thought it impossible to make the trip from Cincinnati in nine hours, and condemned the whole story as a fake. A portion of the balloon was torn by being caught in the tree, and the excited populace who had gathered insisted that this be cut in to small pieces so that each might have a souvenir to carry home. Mr. Clayton soon secured the service of a wagon and team and hauled his balloon to Charleston, when he secured a steamboat passage to Cincinnati arriving safely at home after an absence of some ten days, his family and friends having no information about his whereabouts during his absence.

Mr. Clayton on his balloon trip reported having crossed over the Kanawha Salt works, that being at the time the only industry that kept fires and lights by night. Soon after passing those lights he discovered that his craft was sinking and he consequently threw overboard some ballast he had for that purpose in order to lighten his load, and he also let down by a rope a dog he had with him, the balloon being thus lightened, rose far above the earth. Many years afterwards a rope was found in the forest of Cotton Mountain in Fayette County, supposed to be the rope by which the dog was let down from mid air to earth. As to what became of poor Fido tradition is silent.

Mr. Clayton wrote an article in one of the Cincinnati papers giving a very minute description of his balloon trip, a copy of which he sent to Joseph Graham, and it was long kept as a memento in the family. Many years after this balloon incident John Graham while on a trip to the western states stopped at Cincinnati hunted up Mr. Clayton and was royally entertained in his home. We have been recently informed that a Mrs. McClung now living in Nicholas County has in her possession a piece of this ancient balloon which was cut from it while in the home of Graham. This cloth was silk and of course, a very strong texture. As previously stated our post office was established forty six years ago and was named Clayton in honor of the ancient balloonist.

Webmaster's note:

According to a newspaper account I read, Cincinnati's first airmail flight was in 1912 in a heavier than air craft. The flight had been dreamed up by a press agent for Stunt Pilot Paul Peck. The first flight was made from Coney Island to California, a whopping 4 miles, where Peck dropped the mail package from his Wright Bi-plane at a pre-determined spot in California marked by a flag. It would be another 15 years before Cincinnati had its first regularly scheduled airmail service operated by Embry-Riddle Airlines from Lunken via Indianapolis to Chicago. The Nation's first scheduled mail was carried between New York and Washington in 1917 though.