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This plaque behind Merton College marks the spot where in 1784 James Sadler launched a hydrogen balloon that flew several miles. This was the first flight by an English aeronaut, earning him a quite a bit of celebrity. The Daily Chronicle wrote this about Sadler after his newfound fame, “Sadler is known from the humble cabbage seller to the mightiest of lords.” In fact, Sadler was so celebrated that it’s said that outside the English monarchs, no one received as much mass recognition by their face as Sadler.
Sadler’s face was featured on engravings, and merchants began imprinting balloons onto all there products, as hot air balloon hysteria swept across the country. Sadler originally had no plans on becoming a well-known chemist and engineer, instead, he spent most of his earlier years training to take over the family business as a pastry chef.
He went on to play a major role in the Jubilee celebrations in London in 1814, before dying in 1828. He is buried at Oxford in St. Edmund Hall.