Posted: 5.06.2015

All About Balloons

If you’ve ever been to a party without balloons, then you might be forgiven for not getting into the party spirit. They are a cost effective way of adding a little colour and – well – fun to proceedings. They are also a sign that the host has made an effort to make the place feel more festive.

This is especially so in the case of children’s parties. As every parent knows, children love balloons – they are fun for bouncing up and down, kicking around like footballs and rubbing against your hair. What’s more, when you finally get bored of them, you can pop them – causing a loud bang and yells from people that are not expecting it. This is a source of much hilarity – among children and adults alike.

But while we may be completely familiar with balloons themselves, we might not be so familiar with where this amazingly simple piece of technology actually comes from.

How were balloons invented?

The origin of the balloon is actually a great deal more sombre and serious than you might expect. Michael Faraday, a scientist most famous for his study of electromagnetism, was conducting a series of experiments with gases. He would take plastic bags and fill them with different gases for study.

He would create these bags using two sheets of sticky rubber – he would lay them atop one another and press the edges together until the two sheets adhered to one another. He would then cover the balloon in flour to prevent the rest of it from being sticky.

Faraday realised – to his great delight – that as well as being useful for his work, the balloons were very fun, too. A year later and the early balloons were brought to the masses as a toy. Unlike modern balloons, however, these early offerings had to be assembled before they could be used. They came in the form of a kit containing sheets of rubber and an adhesive syringe to bring them together.

You might think that a year is a relatively short turnaround between invention and sale, but the truth is that the idea of a balloon was not a new one at this point. The hot air balloon had long been carrying people over the countryside. These operated on the principle that the hot air within the balloon would rise over the cold air that surrounded it. The first manned flight of this kind was four decades before Faraday’s realisation, in 1783. It was performed by a man named Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, a Frenchman who, along with his brother Michel, had invented the balloon used for the first ever flight.

How do party balloons work?

The balloons we use at parties today operate using an entirely different principle. The air within the balloon is the same temperature as that outside it, but most times the balloon contains helium, which – being lighter than the average gas (including air itself) – causes the balloon to float.

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What else is a balloon used for?

Leaving to one side entertainment, a balloon has a number of different uses:

  • Artistic – artists can use the surface of a balloon as a medium for displaying their work, or they could make animals and items out of them too. They often employ extra-special balloons made from a material which does not pop very easily.
  • Marketing – many companies and political parties have products to sell and ideologies to promote, and a balloon serves as a perfect canvas for both. If you’re hosting an event, then a balloon can help spread the word far and wide!
  • Medicine – Balloons are used in certain medical circumstances, to inflate clogged arteries and prevent internal bleeding. They can be life-saving as well as fun!
  • Science – sometimes scientists need to send equipment high up into the air in order to record certain phenomena up there. Sometimes you might want to carry a telescope up there – or sometimes even a satellite! What better way to do this than to use a balloon? They are cheap and when you’re done with them you can just let them float off into space – where they’ll eventually burst thanks to differences in pressure.
  • Spying – as well as getting up there for transportation, you can use a balloon as a vantage point. This will allow you to see from afar the activities in, say, a neighbouring village or town. This application was at one point widely-used for reconnaissance during war time. However, it has now become obsolete as we now have far more effective means on spying on one another!