Digital Collections Spotlight #3: The Rufus A. Grider Collection

Posted April 23, 2020 in Digital Access

Digital Collections Spotlight #3: The Rufus A. Grider Collection

Digital Collections Spotlight #3: The Rufus A. Grider Collection
By Jonathan Ennis, digital archivist

As part of a new series of posts, we’re highlighting different collections from the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, that have been digitized and are accessible online. Check out our earlier posts in this series at

This illustration and historical sketch by the 19th-century Moravian artist Rufus A. Grider (1817 – 1900) documents the efforts of Bethlehem locals to build a technological marvel of the era, an airship, and launch it on the 4th of July, 1868. The vessel was built by Dr. Augustine Nathaniel Leinbach and tickets to view the first flight were sold for 50 cents each under the auspices of the “American Aeriel Navigation Company” (one of these tickets and a note on company letterhead can be viewed along with the document in our online collection). Unfortunately things did not go as planned, the document states that “…when the time came to inflate the machine the expectations of the beholders became intense – the Constructor & those who expected to ascend with him got themselves in readiness for the voyage – Ere the ship was filled to it’s full Capacity it Collapsed & the bubble of Aeriel Navigation by means of that invention was abandoned…”

It appears that another attempt was made a decade later. According to the obituary of Caesar Spiegler¹ (1852 -1930), he had built an airship based on Leinbach’s design and planned to launch it on July 3, 1878, charging people $1 to spectate from the field it was to be launched from. The airship was to be piloted by John Wise (1808 – 1879), a noted balloonist who was responsible for a number of advances in ballooning technology as well as performing the U.S. Post Offices’ first official airmail delivery. As it turned out Wise objected to the cigar-like shape of the airship, feeling it should have been spherical, as with the balloons he was used to flying, and it’s not clear if he actually piloted the craft. Spiegler at least did fly the airship, but after reaching a height of about 100 feet, a seam burst and he was forced to land. He would never attempt the experiment again.

Hundreds of Grider illustrations, like the airship featured here, are accessible in digital form in the online finding aid of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem.

A complete listing of digital resources (both digitized collections and translations) is available at


¹ “Bethlehem Man Who Built Airship Years Ago, Is Dead,” Pittston Gazette, August 27, 1930. (accessed 4/15/2020).