Oct 26
Radio Stratosphere

Man has always had a curiosity to go the edge of the earth's atmosphere; to cross into and beyond what is known as the stratosphere. On April 15, 1875 three men - Gaston Tissandier, Théodore Sivel and Joseph Croce-Spinellil, lifted off from Paris in a spherical balloon called the “Zenith” and reached an altitude of 27,950 feet. The main purpose of the Zenith's flight was to determine the amount of carbonic acid and aqueous vapor in the atmosphere's higher regions. During the flight,

Tissnadier was rendered unconscious while both Sival and Spinelli would die of asphyxiation (hypoxia) from the use of an oxygen breathing system. (1) This 1800's balloon flight, marred in tragedy, would set off a debate to try to explain the mysterious deaths of Sival and Spinelli. The flight of the “Zenith” would become one of the early altitude records and a major step toward man's quest to reach the earth's stratospheric region. (2)

More than a half century later, man would finally reach the stratosphere in his quest to go higher and higher. The Engineering Division of the U.S. Army Air Corps would carry out experiments that would take Lieutenant John Macready, the then holder of the American high altitude record, nearly 8 miles up at over 40,000 feet, reaching into the stratosphere by airplane as reported in the December 1926 issue of National Geographic. 

In 1933, a stratosphere balloon with a pressurized spherical gondola designed, built, and flown by the legendary Piccard family in the 1920's and 1930's, would set the next altitude record of over 53,000 feet.

That same year the "Century of Progress" stratosphere balloon, named after 1933 World's Fair theme, would take center stage at Soldier Field during the Chicago World's Fair. The balloon was constructed by Dow Chemical and designed by twin brothers Auguste and Jean Piccard. Goodyear-Zeppelin built the balloon using a special rubberized cloth material that would hold the Union Carbide produced hydrogen gas.

Media giants NBC Radio Network and the Chicago Daily News were not only sponsors of the World's Fair, but they also brought news coverage of this major event to the rest of the county and the world. The Piccard-Compton "Century of Progress" stratosphere balloon captured the attention of all of Chicago and the World Fair goers and made huge news headlines even though the balloon launch failed. It is thought that from this highly publicized event and other stratosphere balloon flights in 1934 and 1935 that the Zenith Radio Corporation may have taken the name “Stratosphere” for their top-of-the line Deluxe All Wave radio.

NOTE: To read more about the Piccard-Compton "Century of Progress" stratosphere balloon event go to "Behind The Dial" on the menu bar and select "Stratosphere Name."

(1) Elements of Physics or Natural Philosophy by Neil Arnott M.D. Chapter Balloon.
(2) Experiences of Atmospheric Rarity p. 273 printed 1880.
National Geographic