By Christy Blevins
In honor of this Saturday’s Quad Fest with their advertisement of hot air balloons, what better way to get excited than by looking at the very first hot air balloon festival in the United States? The most popular balloon festival in the United States is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta which has been held in Albuquerque, NM every year since 1972.
In April of 1972, the first fiesta of hot air balloons occurred in February and highlighted only 13 pilots. As strange as it may seem, considering that today the event takes place at a fairground, the first fiesta was held in the parking lot of a shopping center and involved one balloon race. The balloon festival was actually held as a promotion for the local radio station, KOB-AM radio, however it was very successful and brought out 20,000 spectators mainly from Arizona, California, Michigan, and Iowa, whereas today people show up from all over the world.
After a successful first year, Albuquerque hosted the first World Hot Air Balloon Championships the following year. The fiestas are held in October now, originally the world championship was held in February. The 1973 festival was the turning point for the festival as it became an international fiesta and even looked to hold the world championships from then on out. In 1975, the festival moved to October due to the championship scheduling, but it panned out for visitors as that was the year when there were two balloon fiestas. It was in this year, 1975, that the festival first was called “Balloon Fiesta.” In February of that year, about 40 balloons gathered at the Fairgrounds and hosted the first ever “Cloud bouncer Rally,” which set the stage for the emergence of the “Lovers Rally”, a local race held each February for Valentine’s Day.
For years and years the Balloon Fiesta has grown in size and extravagance and has become the largest hot air balloon convention in the world. In 2000, the fiesta reached a peak of 1,019 balloons, but now the limit has been pushed to only allow 600 to arrive due to wanting “quality over quantity.” In past years, over 20 countries have participated and over 800,000 spectators have showed up.
This year, the fiesta will start on October 3 and last for nine days.