The Balloon-Hoax

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"The Balloon-Hoax" is the title used in collections and anthologies of a newspaper article written by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1844. Originally presented as a true story, it detailed European Monck Mason's trip across the Atlantic Ocean in only three days in a gas balloon. It was later revealed as a hoax and the story was retracted two days later.



The story now known as "The Balloon-Hoax" was first printed in The Sun newspaper in New York. It ran with the headline:

The article went on to provide a detailed and highly plausible account[1] of a lighter-than-air balloon trip by famous European balloonist Monck Mason across the Atlantic Ocean taking 75 hours, along with a diagram and specifications of the craft.

Poe may have been inspired, at least in part, by a prior journalistic hoax known as the "Great Moon Hoax", published in the same newspaper in 1835. One of the suspected writers of that hoax, Richard Adams Locke, was Poe's editor at the time "The Balloon-Hoax" was published.[2] Poe had complained for a decade that the paper's Great Moon Hoax had plagiarized (by way of Locke) the basic idea from The Unparalleled Adventure Of One Hans Pfaall, one of Poe's less successful stories which also involved similar inhabitants on the moon. Poe felt The Sun had made tremendous profits from his story without giving him a cent. (Poe's anger at The Sun paper is chronicled in the 2008 book "The Sun and the Moon" by Matthew Goodman.)

Publication history

The story was first published on April 13, 1844 in the New York Sun.[3] A retraction concerning the article was printed in The Sun on April 15, 1844:

The author of this retraction has not been determined and was rumored to be Poe himself.

Critical reception and significance

Poe himself describes the enthusiasm his story had aroused: he claims that the Sun building was "besieged" by people wanting copies of the newspaper. "I never witnessed more intense excitement to get possession of a newspaper," he wrote.[5] The story's impact reflects on the period's infatuation with progress.[6] Poe added realistic elements, discussing at length the balloon's design and propulsion system in believable detail.[7] His use of real people, including William Harrison Ainsworth, also lent credence to the story.[5] The character of Monck Mason was not a real person, though he was based heavily on Thomas Monck Mason; the story borrowed heavily from Mason's 1836 book Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition from London to Weilburg.[8]

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