MOTU@5 | How We Got Here Online Exhibit | Tales of Derring-Do: Transportation adventures in Philadelphia

Throughout October, MOTU and the Free Library of Philadelphia will be showcasing unique archival images from Philadelphia’s transportation and utilities history in an on-line exhibit called “How’d we get here?”.  Every and Monday and Wednesday in October we will be showcasing a certain segment of the exhibit (all photographs are from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Print and Picture Collection).

Last week Wednesday we took a look at the architecture of Philly’s transportation system and today we’ll be taking a brief look at the history of transportation adventurers in Philadelphia by selecting three of our favorite photos from the “Tales of Derring-Do: Transportation Adventures in Philadelphia” portion of the exhibit.  You can check out all of the historic images online here and in person at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Branch (1901 Vine Street).

Philadelphia has racing and transportation daredevils in its blood. We lost Sassafras Street to Quaker youth who used to race their horses up and down the street to such an extent that it was renamed Race Street. Home to car and hot air balloon races, Philadelphia has seen its fair share of excitement.

America’s First Hot Air Balloon Launch, 1793

hot air ballon 1793

In 1793 Jean Pierre Blanchard turned the yard of the Walnut Street Prison into the site of America’s first hot air balloon launch.  J.P. Blanchard flew 15 miles with a small black dog and a letter of introduction from George Washington, in case he landed on someone’s property in New Jersey.

Car #15 passes by spectators during Fairmount Park Motor Race, Philadelphia, PA, c1910


Between 1908 and 1911, Fairmount Park Motor Races staged automobile races over an eight-mile course in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Despite great popularity–the race drew close to a half million fans its first year–financial success, and the absence of injuries, neighborhood hostility and concerns about public safety forced Philadelphia City Council to shut the race down after four years. Car #15, the Fiat seen in this photograph, was driven by Philadelphia brewer John Fred Betz Jr., a noted racer and sportsman.

Text source:, < >

Image source and credit: Urban Archives, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia – linkt to their website: < >

Balloon Race, 1971

hot air ballon

A seven-story balloon is getting ready to launch from JFK Plaza (i.e. LOVE Park) for a preview of the 1971 Great Philadelphia Balloon Race.


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