Following the defeat of Sedan, the Prussian army and its allies began to besiege Paris between September 17 and 19, 1870. The siege lasted until the French capitulation, which lead to a cease-fire agreement on January 26, 1871, and to the Treaty of Frankfurt later that same year.
During these four months, it was essential for the Parisians to communicate with the rest of the country as the Government of National Defense had withdrawn to Bordeaux. All available means were put to use and balloons were probably the most spectacular of them.
The first balloon to leave Paris, the Neptune, lifted off from Montmartre on September 23, 1870. More than sixty balloons flew across the sky of Paris during this period, including the one used by Léon Gambetta, at the time Minister of the Interior, on October 7.
In addition to passengers, balloons transported mail as well as carrier pigeons. The pilots were often recruited in the navy, and these flights were particularly risky: two balloons were lost at sea, another fell in the middle of enemy lines, a fourth one landed in Norway…
Among the balloon manufacturers, we must mention Nadar, the famous pioneer of aerial photographs, and the Godard Company. The Godard workshop was first established in Gare d’Orleans, as shown in this picture, and moved to Gare du Nord after Gare d’Orleans was damaged by the Prussians. A total of 34 balloons were built in the Godard workshops.
The caption reads in the original French:
Le siège de Paris. — Atelier de fabrication de ballons-poste à la gare d’Orléans.
Histoire de la révolution de 1870-71 was first published as a series of fascicles by L’Éclipse, a weekly newspaper owned by François Polo. Polo published the text in book format some time later at Librairie Polo, which he also founded.