John took a scientific approach to ballooning, so much so that he was generally refereed to as “The Professor”. He studied mathematics and parachutes. And it was not until May of 1835 that John became airborne himself for the first time when he undulated across nine miles of Pennsylvania farmland between Philadelphia and Hanover. He was so inflated by this success that he abandoned his career as a piano maker, and became a full time aerialist. And on July 24, 1837, when Robert Cocking became the first parachute fatality, John Wise was wise enough to realize that the problem was not the shape of Cocking’s parachute, but its 250 pound weight. The following year John invented a successful “rip panel” which, if pulled, would collapse a balloon’s envelope into a practical parachute, allowing a desperate aeronaut to float safely to ground.
In fact the search for profit from these waste products led directly to the entire field of organic chemistry, including the development of color dyes, explosives, fertilizers, even the creation of artificial rubber (plastics). Even today, most of what we call "organic chemistry" is realy petrochemicals. As part of that new science, the noxious coal gas would eventually be renamed “Town Gas” because of its popularity as an economical source of street lighting. Even Ben Franklin in 1783 had no idea the paper balloon he saw rising over Vincennes would led to all of that chemistry - any more than a 1960’s taxpayer could know that the Apollo Moon program would lead to a non-stick Teflon fry pan and the 21st century micro-chip computer that regulated the stove it was used on. How could they? In the Lafayette, Indiana of 1960, for instance, there was only one computer, and it occupied an entire floor in a building especially constructed to house it.
But I am certain that old Ben Franklin could have predicted that tragedy, because he never risked his life in a balloon. He just sold them. Still, it was clear, that old Ben could recognize a revolution when he saw one, even if he could not imagine the details.
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