Richard Clayton attempts a “Grand Aerial Voyage”

Large broadside, sides irregular but 31 ½”h x 22”w at greatest extent. Three lines of headline type surmounting very large (21 ¼”h x 20”w) wood engraving and 10 lines of type. Residual toning and soiling. Mends and restorations along folds and at upper-right corner.

A spectacular rarity of early American aviation, this extremely rare 1835 broadside promotes the attempt by Richard Clayton to fly his balloon Star of the West from Cincinnati, Ohio to the Atlantic.

Clayton was born in England in 1807 or 1811 and emigrated to the United States in the early 1830s, setting up shop in Cincinnati as a clockmaker and silversmith. Having witnessed balloon flights in England, and at a time when ballooning was causing a sensation in the Northeast, Clayton built his own airship, the Star of the West. His inaugural ascent came on April 8-9, 1835, when he gained national fame by drifting from Cincinnati to a mountaintop in Monroe County, Virginia. The voyage covered a staggering 350 miles in 9 ½ hours, at the time a world record. More P.T. Barnum than John Wise, Clayton had sold tickets to the ascent, then at the altitude of a mile, released a dog, which parachuted safely to the ground.

Seeking to build on this success, Clayton planned a more ambitious flight for the following month. To hype the event, he or an agent must have arranged for the publication of this extraordinary broadside.

The image features three lines of headline type surmounting an enormous wood-engraved illustration of the Star of the West splashing down in the Atlantic, as the paddle steamer Union comes to the rescue. The text below the engraving provides details: Clayton’s departure is planned for May 13, and he is optimistic that “several alterations in his aerial machine… will enable him to continue in the atmosphere a greater length of time than he continued on his last voyage.” Further, he “will be supplied with a MAIL BAG, containing the newspapers of the day, and a number of letters for the east.” The ascent will take place at the “amphitheatre on Court street between Race and Elm,” and tickets will be available for sale on the date of ascent.

Alas, strong winds on May 13 caused Clayton to crash soon after takeoff, destroying the Star of the West, though he seems to have avoided serious injury. Undeterred, he built another balloon and piloted it on a dozen or more subsequent ascents, the last recorded in 1844. (Coleman) None of these seems to have reached the Atlantic, though along the way Clayton accumulated a substantial fortune.

In all, a rare and spectacular piece of early American aeronautica.

Not in OCLC. Background from American Railroad Journal and Advocate of Internal Improvements, vol. IV (Jan.–July, 1835), p. 285, and Brent Coleman, “‘Aeronaut’ Clayton got bird’s-eye view of city” at, the web site of WCPO Cincinnati (accessed Nov. 20, 2019). Biography of Richard Clayton from Tenkotte & Claypool, eds., Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, pp. 197-8.