The History of Balloons
“Papa,” said Jack, “can’t you make me a balloon with this piece of whale entrail?”
– Johann David Wyss, Swiss Family Robinson (1813)
There seems to be more information about the history of balloon sculpting than about the balloon itself. Balloon sculpting has only been around for a few decades so there are still plenty of people around that remember its evolution.
- Animal Bladders, and Intestines
- Rubber Balloon Evolution
- Foil Balloons
- The Art of Balloon Modeling
- The Balloon Decorating Organizations and Conventions
- The First Balloon Modeling Convention
Animal Bladders, and Intestines
You can find mention in fairly old books of toys made out of water-filled animal bladders. Bladders apparently expand quite a bit (I haven’t tried.) Unfortunately I can’t give you names of these books since that’s about all I’ve been told by the various librarians I talked to. As far as more modern books, there is a reference to a ball of this type in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. I think it was “Little House in the Big Woods” near the beginning of the book. If you really want to do the research I suggest you look through literature written during the Renaissance in Europe. Merlin has found references indicating that balloon sculpting dates back at least as far as the Aztecs.
Prior to skinnies being made out of rubber they may have been constructed out of intestine; presumably different animals would provide different diameters. The following is offered as supporting evidence;
Swiss Family Robinson (1813) “Papa,” said Jack, “can’t you make me a balloon with this piece of whale entrail?”
Moby Dick (1851) [re sperm whales] “Gasses are generated in him; he swells to a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon.”
In the “olden days”, especially in the European regions, jesters and troubadors (pardon my spelling) were said to sometimes inflate the entrails of recently butchered animals and “entertain” with them. The bladders, intestines, and sometimes the stomach, were strong enough that, despite their thinness, they could be manipulated into amusing shapes.
From `Great Balloons! The Complete Book of Balloon Sculpting‘ by Jean Merlin, Kaufman and Greenberg, 1994
“…the Aztecs were the very first people in history to make animals out of the bowels of cats to be presented to the gods as a sacrifice. The bowels were carefully cleaned, turned inside out, and sewn with a special vegetable thread whose main property was that it stuck to itself when left to dry in the sun, and this produced an almost airtight seal.
The bowels were then twisted and air was blown into them after each twist. When a particularly contagious disease exterminated most of the cats, they used the bowels of the corpses, and when these grew in short supply, human sacrifices were offered to the gods for the sole purpose of obtaining fresh bowels.
As Jacques Dupion Grouchard remarked in his beautiful book, The Mayannaise Connection, the simple making of one animal required several days. And there were only two models: the dog and a kind of donkey.
Once they had been made, the animals were carried (with great ceremony) to the top of the Aztec pyramid, where they were burned in praise of the sun.
Strangely enough, inside the pyramid of Mikerinos, one can see drawings engraved in stone representing camels made of a series of bubbles, about which Champollion says in his book The Rosetta Stone and Other Sidejobs: ‘…one wonders whether these figures of camels do not represent artifacts that were made out of camel’s guts.”
But it is only with the advent of rubber that the Mexicans began manufacturing balloons intended for modeling. The most famous among them was Senor Carlos, who was the first to come over to Europe to perform his balloon sculpting act at the famous Lido de Paris.”
Rubber Balloon Evolution
From The Book of Firsts by Patrick Robertson, Bramhall House, NY, 1978:
The first rubber balloons were made by Professor Michael Faraday in 1824 for use in his experiments with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London. `The caoutchouc is exceedingly elastic’, he wrote in the Quarterly Journal of Science the same year. `Bags made of it…have been expanded by having air forced into them, until the caoutchouc was quite transparent, and when expanded by hydrogen they were so light as to form balloons with considerable ascending power….’ Faraday made his balloons by cutting round two sheets of rubber laid together and pressing the edges together. The tacky rubber welded automatically, and the inside of the balloon was rubbed with flour to prevent the opposing surfaces joining together.
Toy balloons were introduced by pioneer rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock the following year in the form of a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe.
Vulcanized toy balloons, which unlike the earlier kind were unaffected by changes in temperature, were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847 and can be regarded as the prototype of modern toy balloons.”
An old issue of True Inflations said something about latex balloons at, I believe, a worlds fair.
From the Oxford English Dictionary: (note the 1827 reference to Faraday):
caoutchouc (‘kaUtSUk), (‘ku:-). [a. Fr. caoutchouc pron. (kautSu), ad. Carib cahuchu (Littre).]
1 India-rubber, or Gum Elastic; the milky resinous juice of certain trees in S. America, the E. Indies, and elsewhere, which coagulates on exposure to the air, and becomes highly elastic, and is waterproof; it is now a most important substance in arts and manufactures.
`Introduced to France early in the last century, but its origin was unknown till the visit of the French academicians to South America in 1735. They ascertained that it was the inspissated juice of a Brazilian tree, called by the natives Hhve; and an account of the discovery was sent to the academy by M. de la Condamine in 1736’ (Penny Cycl.). Chiefly obtained from the Brazilian Siphonia elastica (Hevea caoutchouc) N.O. Euphorbiaceae, and E. Indian Ficus elastica. But many other tropical plants, Euphorbiaceae, Apocynaceae, Artocarpads, and others, yield it in considerable quantity. Chemically it is composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen, but is not a simple proximate principle, but a mixture of substances.
1775 Phil. Trans. LXVI. 258 An elastic gum bottle, otherwise called boradchio or caout-chouc. 1779 Phil. Trans. LXIX. 384, I take the tube out of the phial, and thrust it..into a small caoutchouck, or elastic gum bottle. 1788-9 HOWARD New Royal Encycl. s.v., Caoutchouc in natural history..a very elastic resin..Very useful for erasing the strokes of black lead pencils, and is popularly called rubber, and lead-eater. 1827 FARADAY Chem. Manip. iv. 122 Cloth is rendered air-tight by caoutchouc. 1870 EMERSON Soc. & Sol., Work & Days Wks. (Bohn) III. 65 What of this dapper caoutchouc and gutta-percha, which makes water-pipes..and rain-proof coats for all climates? 1875 J. H. BENNET Shores Medit. I. i. 25 The secret of the luxuriant verdure [in the Euphorbia]..is the existence of a kind of caoutchu in their white acrid juices. 1863-72 WATTS Dict. Chem. I. 739 Sulphured or vulcanized caoutchouc is an excellent material for tubes for conveying water or gases.
From The house of Goodyear; fifty years of men and industry. by Allen, Hugh, 1882-
PUBL.: (Cleveland, Corday & Gross)
FORMAT: xi, 691 p. illus., ports. 24 cm.
SUBJECT: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio.
Tires, Rubber. Rubber industry and trade
RID #: ocm01090355
Chapter 8. Goodyear in Aeronautics Birth of the Balloon
In 1783, the year America won its independance, two Frenchmen, brothers, sat before a bonfire watching the smoke curl lazily upward.
“I wonder what makes the smoke go up?” one of them said.
“Perhaps warm air is lighter and the cold air pushes it up,” said the other.
“Then if we filled a bag with hot air it would fly!” said the first.
So they built a 35 foot bag of waxed paper, attached a brazier of charcoal underneath, released it – and watched it mount into the air.
Aeronautics was born.
Word of this feat spread fast and far across France, reached the court, the Army, scientific men. They must stage another flight, in Paris. So the Montgolier’s next balloon took off from the courtyard at Versailles. Everyone in France who could get close enough saw it with his own eyes. But a young dandy attached to the court took a pinch of snuff.
“After all, though,” he said, “what good is it?”
The American ambassador caught it up, with a reply that has come down through history.
“Of what use is a baby?” said Benjamin Franklin.
We did a New Year 2000 gig for a resort in the mountains of New Hamshire called The Balsams. This resort, complete with ski slope, is located on 15000 acres owned by Tillotson Rubber Company, the plant is on site and made balloons until recently when it moved operations to Fall River Ma. and formed a division called Dipco. We received a flyer on the history of it all and this is what it said about Neil Tillotson and his balloons:
At the age of 16, Tillotson secured a job at Hood Rubber Company in Boston and, returning there after a 2 year stint in the Seventh Calvary during World War I, he was the only one of 25 Hood chemists without a college degree. Yet his inventive talents earned him a place in new product development with Hood: and when the first shipment of raw latex reached Boston Harbor during the 1920’s Tillotson began his lifelong association with the substance.
Hoods efforts with latex were unsuccessful at first, but Tillotson persevered on his own. At his Watertown home, he designed and produced a latex balloon with a cat’s face and ears from a cardboard form which he cut buy hand with a pair of scissors. He managed to make his first sale of these balloons with an order of 15 gross to be delivered for the annual Patriots Day Parade on April 19, 1931. Tillotson put his family into production to meet the deadline while he continued his duties full time at Hood Rubber and worked at home in the evenings on the balloons.
Tillotson incorporated his latex business in 1931 and left Hood the following year. Depression tightened free money around Boston, so he bought an unlimited bus ticket which took him across the country in search of novelty company buyers for his new balloons. The great majority of those initial customers still buy balloons from Tillotson Rubber Company today. (Balloon division named Dipco)
The final chapter in “The Great Balloon Game Book” by Arnold E. Grummer is devoted to the history of balloons. The following is reproduced with permission from:
The Great Balloon Game Book and More Balloon Activities
By Arnold E. Grummer
Published by Greg Markim, Inc., Appleton, Wisconsin, 1987
Long before there was something so stretchy as rubber, balloons were a fact. In the pre-rubber era, balloons came from animal bladders. A pig’s bladder was inflated by Galileo in an experiment to measure the weight of air. Inflated animal bladders were used in play by Indian and Eskimo children. Most of the bladders were from sea animals.
A balloon was first made from rubber in 1824. Professor Michael Faraday, in his work at the Royal Institution in London, was experimenting with gases and raw rubber, called caoutchouc. In the Quarterly Journal of Science in 1824 he wrote, “The caoutchouc is exceedingly elastic. Bags made of it … have been expanded by having air forced into them, until the caoutchouc was quite transparent.”
His work was also probably the first joining of balloons with hydrogen. His journal article continued, “When expanded by hydrogen, they (the rubber bags) were so light as to form balloons with considerable ascending power.”
The first chance that people had to get a rubber balloon was in 1825. But they had to make the actual balloon themselves. The balloons came in the form of a kit. The kit was made up of “. . . a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe.” It was marketed by England’s pioneer rubber manufacturer, Thomas Hancock.
As early as 1889, balloons could be bought by people in the United States. Montgomery Ward had them in their catalog that year. The catalog listed them as “. . . red rubber balloons with trumpet ends.” The price was four cents each or forty cents a dozen. The balloons were not made in the United States, but were probably imported from Belgium.
The first manufacture of balloons in the United States came in 1907. The manufacturer was the Anderson Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio.
In 1912 came a totally new thing for the balloon world. It was the manufacture of the first balloon that wasn’t round. It was cigar-shaped. The development has been credited to Harry Ross Gill, founder of the National Latex Rubber Products of Ashland, Ohio.
Gill developed two other items. One was a dye that did not rub off on people’s hands and faces. The other was marketing balloons in a packaged assortment, which was advertised as “. . . the first sanitary balloon package.”
In 1931, balloon technology leaped ahead when, according to an industry catalog, “Neil Tillotson dipped the first modern latex balloon made from the sap of a rubber tree.” The catalog further states that the balloon, shaped like a cat’s head with pointed ears and a whisker-printed face, was the world’s first novelty-shaped and printed balloon. Before that, balloons were made with difficulty and danger from a solvent-dissolved rubber similar to rubber cement. Tillotson founded the Tillotson Rubber Company which still makes balloons today.
Typical of balloon developments through the years, are the following:
- Radium balloon This balloon took on a solid color in a first dipping. In a second dipping it took on a second color in stripes.
- Alligator balloon When particular solid color balloons were dipped into an acid, the balloon’s color turned into two shades. This gave it an “alligator” look.
- Pig balloon A balloon resembling a pig was made by pasting sheet rubber ears and wooden legs onto an airship balloon. Marketed through the Woolworth Co., it flopped. New packaging was designed. The pig balloon was put into an envelope. Its picture was printed on the outside. It was re-named “Pig in a Poke”. Sales were a great success … through the Woolworth Co.
Balloon developments have included designing and making special balloons for special uses by particular individuals. One was for dancers. A small foot pump was used to inflate the balloon at a “critical” moment in the dance.
One of the dancers was Sally Rand at the Italian Village of the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. The balloons she used were transparent. They inflated to five feet in diameter. They cost $28.50 each. A problem developed. The balloons burst at an embarrassing moment. A representative of the manufacturing company went to Chicago to see if he could find the trouble’s cause. He found it. It was a certain audience member who shot paper clips with a rubber band slingshot.
The trouble was cured by lowering a barrier between the audience and the dancer. It was a curtain of silk that stopped paper clips and other missiles but did not stop the view.
World War II caused the development of numerous special balloons. One was a model that inflated to five feet in diameter and twenty feet long. It was used as a target in the Army’s development of the “bazooka” anti-tank gun.
Toy balloon developments after the war included a “two in one”. It was a head balloon inside a clear outer balloon.
Another was the “Bird of Paradise”, which had an inflatable head, beak, and body. It sold well, but not as well as the subsequent “Busy Bee”, created when someone playfully wrapped a long airship balloon around the neck of the Bird of Paradise.
Another accidental discovery developed into a 1940’s fad. It was a “Bub-O-Loon”. It happened while Dr. Ferdinand Ringer was trying to develop a multiple strike match. The research included trying to blow air into a mass of vinylite resin in acetone. A bubble formed. Dr. Ringer found that the bubble could be pinched off and saved. That led to masses of kids across the nation blowing through a straw-like tube into a tacky mass stuck on the end, forming their own balloon. The multiple strike match was also successfully developed, but never gained acceptance.
Hydrogen and helium have long been part of people’s fascination with the balloon world. The gases cause balloons to rise. As noted above, hydrogen and balloons were first brought together by Faraday. Hydrogen brings a lot of play and joy to the balloon world, but it brings an equal or greater amount of danger. It easily explodes and catches fire. Hydrogen-filled balloons can float to a site of combustible material, explode, and start a fire. They did.
As early as 1914, thoughtful firemen were trying to ban the use of hydrogen in toy balloons because of the danger. In 1922, New York City banned hydrogen-filled toy balloons by official ordinance. The action was taken after a prankster exploded hydrogen-filled balloon decorations at a city function, and an official was badly burned.
But in spite of the danger, hydrogen-filled balloons did deliver pleasure, adventure, and education. A 1929 magazine reported that a Mickey Mouse balloon released from somewhere in the United States, startled a group of persons when it landed in Africa.
A youth in Pennsylvania received word that a balloon bearing his name had been picked up by a fisherman in Singapore.
The same year, balloon races launched in Chicago had returns from as far away as North Carolina and Virginia. One of the balloons in the race traveled 600 miles in less than twelve hours.
Education and practical information come from probing air currents over the earth by means of hydrogen-filled balloons. This assisted early aviation.
Prior to the first World War, the probes were used to help devise formulas for ascension and flight of much larger balloons. This delivered information later used to calculate altitude at which pilots could fly with the wind, adding to the plane’s speed.
Hydrogen was eventually replaced by helium. Though hydrogen had one-tenth more lifting power, helium was safer.
The safety made it possible for gas-filled balloons to be used in dramatic ways in advertising. Helen Warny became a leader in this field. In the 1920’s, she was founder of The Toy Balloon company in New York. She used luminous and other balloons in balloon showerettes, balloon-decked parade floats, and fashionable window displays. The peak of her efforts came when she released 50,000 helium-filled balloons at one time. Each was printed with an advertiser’s name and bore a tag which offered a prize to the finder.
Some balloons today are specially designed for being filled with helium. They are self-sealing, which helps eliminate helium waste. They have their own strings attached.
The most recent big development in the balloon world is the manufacture of balloons from plastic. The balloons are called silver mylars. They apparently hold helium longer than rubber balloons do. They have surfaces that are excellent for receiving printing. The surfaces are also excellent for covering with brilliant colors.
Today, the balloon capital of the nation is Ohio, and the balloon capital of Ohio is the city of Ashland. Of six major manufacturers, four are located in Ohio, and of those four, two are located in Ashland. Ashland companies are the Ashland Rubber Products Corporation and the National Latex Products Company. The two other Ohio companies are the Maple City Rubber Company In Norwalk, and the Oak Rubber Company in Ravenna. Elsewhere, the Pioneer Balloon Company is located In Wichita, Kansas, and the Tillotson Rubber Co., Inc. is in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.
The toy balloon remains very alive and active on the world’s scene. Balloons are manufactured by the millions daily in a number of countries. They start as liquid from a rubber tree. Balloon manufacturing companies send the liquid through treatment processes and then through shaping and coloring operations. The liquid winds up as a balloon which provides a splash of color and a burst of excitement at private parties, fairs, carnivals, circuses, store sales, trade expositions, and at any other place that people gather for relief from work and routine. Silver mylars perform the same function.
The world is better off because of the toy balloon.
H. Wayne Roberts, Vice President, Account Marketing, Pioneer Balloon, writes:
Long before there were any companies who did balloon deliveries, long before anyone thought of arches, balloon weddings, balloon decor, etc. Qualatex was a leader in the sale of advertising balloons. So, to be very honest the modern balloon environment may not have evolved if it had not been for the olden days. Imprinted business and event balloons were the start and life blood of Pioneer (the real company name) and Qualatex (the brand name) which have a much more interesting history than many of the lists readers may be aware. In the olden days – there was Qualatex, Oak and Tilly – all had divisions in the Specialty Adverting Market.
Pioneer has sold its products through different distribution channels for many years. The main thrust of Pioneer’s early years (since 1918) was the consumer retail and novelty markets. In 1936, Pioneer joined what is now the Promotional Products Association and became involved in selling its custom-printed products through a nationwide network of distributors. It was not until the early 1980’s that Pioneer began to develop the professional decorator market. Sales of custom printed balloons through the promotional product industry represent a significant percentage of Pioneer’s business, and continue to grow.
The concept and technology for the “metalization” of plastic sheeting that has given us foil balloons comes directly out of the NASA Space Mission. By the way, all of us sculptors should stop referring to foil balloons as Mylar (a trademarked name for a certain type of polyester film) balloons. The balloon industry refers to them as “foil” balloons, because they are made of nylon sheet, coated on one side with polyethylene and metallized on the other. It’s evidently so much harder to make balloons out of aluminized Mylar (and probably so much more expensive) that nobody does it. (Mylar is a thermosetting polymer, not a thermoplastic polymer like nylon or polyethylene; thus Mylar not heat-sealable.)
The Art of Balloon Modeling
Printed on Tilly balloon packages are the words “Inventor of the Modern Rubber Balloon” and “World’s Most Beautiful Balloons since 1931”. On the back it says “Tilly Biodegradeable Natural Rubber Balloons, produced from the highest grade Hevea tree latex, are decayed by natural exposure, into soil nutrients as fast as tree leaves. One gross of balloons represents the daily tapping of a healthy rubber tree for 8 to 10 weeks during which time it replaced 10 lbs of greenhouse gas with life giving oxygen, gave steady income to a small farmer in a developing country, and provided a happy home for songbirds.”
From “Manual of Balloon Modeling, Vol. 1, An Encyclopedic Series” by Val Andrews, 1981, Magico Magazine, NYC:
I have found the art of balloon modeling a joy to watch since I first saw it done by Wally Boag in the early ‘fifties. But I understand that “Windy Blow” was performing the art in England as early as 1945. Both Jay Marshall and Tommy Windsor name one H.J. Bonnert of Scranton, PA, as the “daddy of them all.” It seems that Mr. Bonnert performed a modeling act with balloons at a Pittsburgh Magicians’ Convention way back in 1938!…. As far as modeling from one long balloon is concerned, Windy Blow claims to have done this in 1945, and he certainly published a one-balloon animal with details in Max Andrew’s Magic Magazine in February, 1953. At least this proves wrong the generally held view that one-balloon animals were originated as late as 1960, and in the United States.
From “Roger’s Rubber Ark, One Balloon Zoo, Volume 2“, by Roger Siegel, 1971, Magic Inc., Chicago, IL:
A toy balloon is a very old plaything … kids floated them around on strings for over a hundred years. They were always round until a few decades ago when long balloons appeared. These were soon turned by magicians into huge animals, but when the “pencil balloons” appeared, animal making came into its own.”
and on the back cover, a note from the publisher reads:
We are proud of our record in the publication of books on balloon animal work. In 1952 we printed a mimeo edition of Don Alan’s “Rubber Circus“, followed by the first printed edition in 1958. These were the first books published on the making of animals from the larger balloons. Then when the pencil balloons came on the market, we published “One Balloon Zoo“, the first book on animals made from these narrower balloons.
From a preface written by John Shirley, appearing in “One balloon animals; the rubber jungle / Roger’s rubber jungle” by Roger Siegel:
By definition, a balloon is a small inflatable rubber bag, used as a toy. It made its first appearance at the Paris Exposition of 1889. In the beginning it was simply two sheets of gum rubber with the edges pounded together, made to look like one of the large hot-air balloons which had been around since 1783. The toy version caught on quickly and has been constantly improved and diversified up to the present day… The art of twisting and sculpturing balloons probably began sometime around 1920 but did not become popular until the advent of the skinny balloons after World War II. These were made first in Japan and imported to the U.S. as a very low-priced novelty. Crude directions showed how to combine several balloons to make dogs, giraffes, hats, airplanes, etc. The quality of the rubber was so poor that only an expert could manage to sculpt without breaking the balloons. Besides, the heavy rubber and small diameter made them very difficult to inflate. However, millions of them were sold, mostly by mail-order, and U.S. balloon companies soon took the hint. They began to package their regular airship balloons as balloon animal kits. It took three short and one long balloon to make a balloon dog.
In the late 1950’s, several companies began marketing the skinny-twister balloons which are used by most rubber-sculptors today. The quality was much improved, the colors were bright, and almost anyone could inflate them. Best of all they were inexpensive when compared to the regular-sized airship balloons. They made an excellent give-away. It was inevitable that the art of balloon sculpturing be revived. The new balloons were more than twenty times the diameter, in length. This enabled the sculptor to make many twists in one balloon. The inventor of the one balloon animal is unknown, but his origination opened the door to a new art.”
Tom Myers writes:
Here’s my take on the history on the 1″ twisting balloon. I’d guess it was in 1987 that a twister at a clown convention showed me a 1″ balloon made in (I think) Mexico. He had bought a pack of 36 somewhere. It was about a 115 size balloon and it made a great little poodle. I don’t remember who it was but it seems to me it was a friend of Dancin’ Dan Hansen’s.
On the same trip I stopped by Ashland Rubber in Ohio and talked to the manager who had never seen a 1″ twisting balloon and said he’d work on them. They came out within a year.
My first ad for them named them as 130 Spaghetti Balloons. I wanted to imply they were very skinny.
Pencil and Twisty have been used to describe the 2″ balloons since the 1960’s.
Jim Church III writes: If you are interested in some history about balloon animals, just ask the old- timers.
1Q. Was Ashland Rubber Co. the first maker of the pencil balloons? If not, who was?
1A. The first 245 balloon I (Ralph Dewey) knew of was made by Oak Rubber and was very thin and transparent. I talked them into making a run (5,000,000) balloons in the early 60’s They were very hard to inflate but matched the other airships as far as color and weight, That balloon was taken to Ashland by Morris Levy in the early 1960’s.
2Q. I read in some of the earliest books that the airship was used first to make animals. Who came up with the idea of using a long skinny balloon (the #245 pencil balloon)?
2A. I (Ralph Dewey) started making balloon animals in 1952 using 312, 338, 426, 428 and only using the 245 balloon for elephant ears and wings for a dragonfly. the reason I had them make the heavier balloon was to make the figures match. Frank Zacone from Youngstown, Ohio was doing a balloon act during the 1940’s and had been doing the act for some time. At that time as a teen ager all I could see were Marshall Flowers so I never paid any attention to his act. When I started using balloons in 1952 Frank had already passed away.
3Q. Was the #245 the first pencil balloon size?
3A. Yes as far as I (Ralph Dewey) know.
For those of you who are members of the Society of American Magicians, their magazine MUM will be having a balloon magic issue in December 1998. For the magazine, Bruce Kalver just finished a timeline history of balloons.
In Bruce Kalver’s book Professional Portfolio for Balloon Artists, there is a section on the history of balloons. Here’s what is says about balloon twisting:
“H.J. Bonnert of Scranton, PA performed a balloon modeling act at a Pittsburgh magic convention 1938. ”
Bruce believes that this was the first balloon twisting performer.
It is said that Galileo, in an experiment to measure the weight of air, inflated a pig’s bladder-1620’s. The first ‘non-round’ balloon (cigar shaped) was manufactured in Ashland, Ohio-1912.
A recent M-U-M (The magazine of The Society of American Magicians) credits Bev Bergeron as the first person to make one balloon figures using 260’s! Others before him used multiple balloons to create their masterpieces!
Bruce Kalver writes “I am familiar with Bev’s claim. Although he was one of the first, my research shows others before him.”
The Balloon Decorating Organizations and Conventions
- The National Association of Balloon Artists (NABA) was the brainchild of Debra Paulk. She published “How to Build a Better Balloon Business” and started the associated print publication Balloons Today magazine in March of 1986. Their first convention was in January of 1987 in Atlanta.This was the beginning for large balloon conventions, although smaller events had taken place. Jim Parker and the Red Balloon Company had been doing seminars for some time. Darlene Dykstra had hosted a couple of open-houses with classes, and Flowers had done a few workshops as well. The first “Balloons & Singing Telegram” (B&ST, or “BEST“) was held in Edmonton in 1985, as an outgrowth of Darlene’s workshops. This later became, in retrospect, IBAC 1 (IBAC 4 was the first official International Balloon Arts Convention). Jim Parker was loosely associated, as was John McGrath, (of “John-Wayne” productions and Silver Rainbow, inventor of the Quickie Clip, the banana mylar, and the mylar yo-yo). Rocky Toomey, and the rest of the current IBAC crew, were there. Also there was Jerry Levin, with brother Philw ho started Balloon City but later sold out. I think it was Darlene who also sponsored the “Booze Cruise”, a balloon seminar/workshop on a Carribean Cruise. The next two B&ST conventions were in Chicago. John McGrath was the organizer, with some sponsorship from Pioneer. It coincided with the Party Show at Rosemont, like IBAC does now, only then it was Labor Day weekend-ish.
There was an attempted startup of B&ST as an organization, like the newly formed NABA. An accociated newsletter made it to prototype stage, which I saw a copy of once, but it never flew. There was somewhat of a rivalry between NABA and B&ST. The B&STconvention itself was in danger of folding, and Don Cheeseman, Marie Mandoli, Rocky Toomey, Jamie Jeffries, and Chuck and Joyce Gruberman, were involved, got backing form Pioneer, and made it fly.
IBAC 4 was held in Denver in 1989. It was the first real IBAC, with full Pioneer sponsorship (I should point out that Pioneer came to the rescue of this fledgling organization and helped it succeed when it almost didn’t.
- When B&ST left Chicago and became IBAC, it stopped being affiliated with a trade show and instead became affiliated with a single sponsor, Pioneer. NABA, on the other hand had grown from a few sponsors, or affiliates, to a major full blown trade show. The buzz was, go to IBAC if you want to learn hard-core balloon art, go to NABA for the trade show. The publication Balloons Today changed its name to Balloons and Parties Today.
- The International Balloon Association (IBA) was formed in 1989 by U.S. Balloon Distributors to combat negative legislative proposals to ban the sale of balloons in California and other states. At the time, California had experienced some costly power outages due to errant metallic balloon releases, and to solve this problem, the proposal had been made to ban balloons altogether. Manufacturers soon joined Distributors and subsequently The Balloon Council was formed and commissioned to fight the legal battles on behalf of the balloon industry. The goals and ideals of the IBA as it was formed then are still true today, to promote the balloon industry and the perceived value of balloons to the end user and to dispell negative information about balloons to the public. In 1991-92 IBA included balloon Retailers and Decorators in its membership and consequently held two Trade Show/Educational Conventions for the benefit of all members. After 1992 this membership category was discontinued as IBAC was emerging and fulfilling the educational needs of the Retail/Decorator/Twister/Entertainer category. IBA continued as a Distributor-driven association with an Annual Business Conference held each year in the fall.At the 2005 Annual Business Meeting, IBA members unanimously voted to bring back the Retail/Decor/Twister/Entertainer Category of Membership and subsequently voted to hold an IBA Balloon & Party Convention in conjunction with TransWorld Exhibits International Halloween and Party Show the following March of 2006 in Rosemont, IL. Following the success of this convention, it was determined that IBA and TransWorld Exhibits would continue to partner to produce this event every year. IBA Annual Business meetings continue to be held in August or September each year with the agenda of promoting healthy business practices for all member categories and to conduct the business of the Association.
- Jim Parker of The Red Balloon Company had been involved for a long time in education and networking. He launched the Red Balloon Network, which was supposed to be an organization with dues, qualifications and portfolios mandatory. They would produce promotional brochures and postcards for members to purchase and use in marketing. One member per ‘territory’, so the first member in an area excluded any other members from that area. You would refer to other RBN members around the country. The network grew slowly and struggled. In what may have been ‘posturing’ for a takeover bid, the RBN at one point extended an invitation to known balloon artists to join without having to qualify by submitting their portfolios. Dues would be waived for an initial year or so. This resulted in a rapid growth of membership, but not much of a rise capital, I’d imagine. Very shortly thereafter, the RBN was bought by Pioneer and restructured into the Qualatex Balloon Network (QBN). RBN members were sort-of “grandfathered” in as charter members, but still had to take the tests.
The First Convention dedicated to the subject of Balloon Modeling
T&JAM 1999 – The convention dedicated to balloon twisters.
Organized by T. Myers Maginc, Inc. and Balloon HQ, LLC
Dateline: Austin, TX.
The T & Jam Competition was held today at the Austin Chariot Resort Inn. Words cannot describe the balloons that were entered in the contest today at T & Jam! There were no official “judges.” Instead, everyone who entered a sculpture got to pick the sculpture they thought was the best in each of three categories. When the votes were tallied Tom Myers read off the results and presented the awards: Balloon Magic books and videos, BSA gift certificates, three boom boxes, Qualatex jackets, and T.Myers plaques.
Small sculpture category
1st place: Patrick Brown; Clown Car
2nd place: Yvonne Brogdon; Babysitting Chicken in a Basket
3rd place: Ken Stillman; King Neptune
Medium sculpture category
1st place: Jeanette Lively; Dragon
2nd place: Patrick Brown; Clown on a Unicycle
3rd place: Fred Harshberger; Bull Rider
Large sculpture category
1st place: Patrick Brown; King of the Gargoyles
2nd place: Ken Stillman; Pirate
3rd place: Mark Verge; Goofy Fishing
See photos of these winning sculptures!
1999 T & Jam Top Twister The “Top Twister” award was given to the person who received the highest cumulative number of votes in all three categories. This fabulous prize package consisted of $1,000.00 worth of merchandise from the T.Myers catalog, along with a television set and the full Qualatex Balloon Network CBA video course. The 1999 T & Jam Top Twister award went to Patrick Brown.
Patty Sorell writes:
I’d like to start by thanking Tom for taking the responsibility along with Larry, Mark and Sheena to get a Balloon Sculptors Gathering possible. Although we (on the internet) have been dreaming and talking about it for a long time, it took $ and time to make it a reality, something that T & BHQ had more of than us other folks. Thank You. Now for the review/synopsis:
Royal and I arrived on Thursday and got our room key, we had just run into Dennis K also from Mass at the airport and when we walked in the front door of the hotel, there was Sheena! We didn’t need no amethyst balloons. We made a date to meet poolside after we threw our clothes into the room, so we could chat and jam. When we got poolside there were already several balloon lovers chating and instantly we started introductions and jammin’. As the day wore on, others saw the growing crowd and automatically jumped right in. John Holmes arrived, Marvin arrived, T and the crew started bringing in boxes for the sattellite location of TMyers Magic and BHQ also set up a computer to show everyone the new BHQ look and to introduce some to the world of balloons online. Balloons were flying everywhere and lots of people were getting to know each other and exclaiming “so thats what you look like!” We twisted till it was too dark to see, then we ended up twisting some more in the restaurant and the bar.
Friday was much the same, more people coming into the hotel, twisting wherever there was an empty space, going to Dennys to twist (and maybe to eat), and getting to know one another. We met for the welcome and general info session – introductions of staff, how the weekend would be run and other details. The open mike was fun but it seemed that some people may have been intimidated by the names, because I would have thought we would have more participants. When next year comes and we have open mike (I suggest T, that this be a “keeper”), just get up there and think of us a friends and don’t be afraid. When that was done guess what we all did…. we were jamming some more.
Saturday started the classes and I must say it was the best set-up I have ever witnessed/attended. The clowns and magicians could take a lesson here. The sessions were scheduled so that each attendee had the chance to see all the teachers/classes if they wanted. Admission to each class was $5. If you didn’t want to take a class, no problem. If you did, $5 is a nominal fee. Royal and I had a friend at the door collecting for us. According to the figures it is true that not everyone took the classes, some elected to just jam (or sleep late) somewhere on the hotel grounds. I have to say that usually at Clown or Magic conventions, there is little in the way of fee or compensation to a teacher other than a free registration, but at T amp;Jam, Royal and I at least made up some of what we were losing by turning down jobs for the weekend. The saturday competition was awe inspiring. I had been working on my pieces all weekend (Nurse in small category, Bride & Groom in meduim, Jack in the Box in large), Royal decided to enter (Superguy in small, 4′ tall Goofy in medium, Charlie Chaplin near a Lamppost with Keystone cop and dog in Large). We were soundly beaten by the winners (though my nurse lost to Ken Stillman’s neptune by only 1 point) and humbled by the other entrants’ talent.
The banquet was just too much fun, we had balloons on all the tables and the contest was to see which table could make the best (voted by applause) group sculpture. Balloons were flying everywhere and you couldn’t see the other side of the room for all the balloons. Us instructors were at a head table on stage and therefore unable to take part so we had our own game going – target practice: we would shoot balloons off our fingers at chosen targets, we missed 99% of the time. More twisting in the restaurant and bar afterwards.
Sunday was new to all of us. The only scheduled event was John Holmes sunday service with Ralph Dewey’s help. Afterward T had set up a time for what he called private lessons. It was supposed to be a set price for the students to split, but that seemed to intimidate people and kept them from signing up – they didn’t want to be stuck for a $350 tab if they were the only one there. So most instructors opted for a set price. The very cool thing about the private lessons were that anyone could teach and try to recruit students. There must have been 15 or more different lessons going on, weaving, balloon entertainment, cartoon characters, gospel balloons and much more. Prices ranged from $10 – $25 for a lesson, some lessons were limited to 2 hours, some had no limit. Royal and I decided to teach people and figure studies and balloon caricatures and we charged $25, we were going to teach until we were done. We ended up teaching for 4 hours ( = $6.25 per hour, not a bad deal!). We had a total of 12 students in our room and because the class was so small there was real hands on and everyone learned tons of stuff. Because of popular demand, we also ended up doing a second class in the afternoon (same as the first) for another 5 students. Lots of people were leaving on sunday afternoon, but they were still able to cram in some private lesson or jamming time, but a bunch of us staying till monday went out to a local steakhouse for one last nite of fun. There was still more jamming, but Royal and I were at the end of the table that wasn’t (were were just about ballooned out). We got to know Steph and Yves from belgium and what they did for an act and we, along with Larry and Sheena, compared notes on entertaining styles.
That was it for us, we went home on Monday morning and we are totally exhausted. But it was also totally worth it. Thank you again Tom and everyone else who made T &Jam a huge success. See you next year!
Balloon Modeling comes to IBAC
IBAC 11 this past August was a blast. I got to meet and hang out with lots of balloon artists and exchange ideas, tips and sculptures. For me it was basically a 4 day version of Marvin’s “260Q Jam Session” class where balloon artists show each other what they’ve got. The after-hours networking and twisting in the hall was basic/ intermediate/ advanced/ ultra-advanced with lots of one-on-one sharing and jamming.