In the summer of 1849, Austrian Field Marshall Joseph Radetzky did something no one had done before: He bombed a city from the air.
His target was Venice, then in rebellion against the Habsburg crown. During the siege, he launched a fleet of unmanned linen balloons, carrying bombs made from canister shot and gunpowder, timed to drop over the besieged city.
Radetzky told Emperor Franz Joseph that the effect on the people of Venice was “frightful.” Indeed, Radetzky’s balloons had done little physical damage, but had a substantial effect on the morale of the city’s defenders. As the 19th century wore on, fear of attack by airships became a constant theme in popular literature. By World War I, the mere mention of the word “Zeppelin” was enough to cause panic in the streets of London.