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1871 __ Balloon Post & “Boules de Moulins”
Comment : During the siege of Paris, in 1871, fifty-four balloon posts were dispatched, carrying two-and-a-half million letters, weighing ten tons. (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894)During the siege of Paris between 23 September 1870 and 22 January 1871 65 unguided post office balloons were discharged. The special balloon postcards were 10 x 7 cm largely, the balloon envelopes were manufactured of thin green paper and were not allowed a weight of 4 g not to exceed. The postcards carried an address, and one hoped that they were found and further-sent away on conventional post office way. 20 cents were required (more however, if to outside of France will carry the post office should). Balloon post office designates the transport of a mail (usually for weight reasons in form of a postcard) with the name of the sender by means of an unguided, with hydrogen or helium filled balloon. Since the balloon is not controllable, the addressee of a balloon post office is left to the coincidence. A balloon post office is not found frequent. In this regard balloon post office has a large similarity with the bottle post office.As had been expected, the normal channels of communication into and out of Paris were interrupted during the four-and-a-half months of the siege, and, indeed, it was not until the middle of February 1871 that the Prussians relaxed their control of the postal and telegraph services. With the encirclement of the city on 18th September, the last overhead telegraph wires were cut on the morning of 19th September, and the secret telegraph cable in the bed of the Seine was located and cut on 27th September. Although a number of postmen succeeded in passing through the Prussian lines in the earliest days of the siege, others were captured and shot, and there is no proof of any post, certainly after October, reaching Paris from the outside, apart from private letters carried by unofficial individuals. Five sheepdogs experienced in driving cattle into Paris were flown out by balloon with the intention of their returning carrying mail; after release they were never again seen. Equally a failure was the use of zinc balls (the boules de Moulins) filled with letters and floated down the Seine; not one of these balls was recovered during the siege. As was later said "Pas qu'une souris pût franchir les lignes prussiennes sans être vue." The Prussians did permit authorised emissaries from Tours and Bordeaux to pass into Paris during peace negotiations but they were forbidden to bring in private letters. Foreign legations continued to receive and send out diplomatic bags but always under strict Prussian supervision, although the American Embassy, with Washburne as Minister, was permitted to use sealed bags. Millions of letters were carried outwards from Paris by balloon but free balloons could not offer a reliable means of inwards communication since they were at the mercy of the wind and could not be directed to a pre-determined destination. The only balloon which made even a start of a return flight to Paris was the Jean Bart 1 which left Rouen on 7th November but, after a first hop which took it 20 km towards Paris, the wind changed and further attempts were abandoned. During January 1871, a fleet of free balloons was being assembled at Lille but the armistice prevented it being put into operation. Self-propelled dirigible balloons were then in their infancy and whilst, on 9th January, the Duquesne, fitted with two propellers, left Paris bound for Besancon and Switzerland, it got only as far as Reims. For an assured communication into Paris, the only successful method was by the time-honoured carrier-pigeon, and thousands of messages, official and private, were thus taken into the besieged city. (J.D. Hayhurst)
French comment : Du 18 Septembre 1870 au 28 Janvier 1871, Paris fut assiégé par les Prussiens. Il fallait pourtant acheminer le courrier vers la capitale. On tenta donc d'utiliser la Seine, au moyen de la "Boule de Moulins". La Boule de Moulins était une boule de zinc, munie d'ailettes, dans laquelle on pouvait mettre des lettres de moins de 4 grammes. Centralisées à Moulins sur Allier, les lettres étaient affranchies à 1 franc. Mais 80 centimes revenaient aux inventeurs de la boule. L'expérience dura du 4 au 31 janvier 1871. 55 boules furent immergées en amont de Paris contenant 500 à 600 plis. Aucune boule n'arriva à Paris durant le siège. On repêcha la première le 6 mars 1871. La dernière retrouvée le fut en 1968, avec près de 500 plis à l'intérieur. Au cours du même siège, le pigeon fut une autre façon de transporter le courrier. Cette méthode se révéla très efficace. La technique, ancienne, avait déjà été utilisée à de nombreuses reprises au cours de l'histoire. Les aérostiers du siège qui transportaient les lettres vers les départements, emportaient une cage de pigeons qui rapportaient des nouvelles de la province à Paris. Des milliers de dépêches micro-photographiées étaient placées dans un tube, fixé à la queue de l'oiseau. Le pigeon était lâché aux environs de Paris. Un facteur le recueillait dans la capitale. Acheminer le courrier représentait le but quotidien de la Poste. Le siège des Prussiens ne devait pas interrompre le service. Ainsi, de Paris, 67 ballons montés par des aérostiers quittèrent la capitale en direction de la province du 23 septembre 1870 au 27 Janvier 1871. 56 de ces ballons transportaient officiellement du courrier. (Musée Postal du Forez)
Urls : http://www.atlantic-cable.com/Books/GNT/ (last visited ) http://www.coppoweb.com/pigeon/pigeon.html (last visited ) http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/page/affichelieu.php?idLang=fr&idLieu=5571 (last visited )

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