Objects and memories from the first World Hot Air Balloon Championship
'The World Hot Air Balloon Championship Comes to the Land of Enchantment' - story 3
By Rebecca Prinster, Assistant Curator, Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum
(In the first and second installments of this 50th anniversary series on the World Hot Air Balloon Championship, we learned how Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® organizers pulled off the first-ever World Hot Air Balloon Championship and about the event itself. In this final article of the series, read about objects in the collection of the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum from the 1973 event.)
Hot air balloon competitors converged on Albuquerque, New Mexico, in early February 1973 for the first-ever World Hot Air Balloon Championship. When they went their separate ways, they took home memories and mementos from the event. Some of these objects eventually made their way into the collection of the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
In 2022, the Museum—which is a cultural institution within the City of Albuquerque’s Department of Arts & Culture—opened an exhibition about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® called Canopy of Color. Part of this exhibition included objects from the first world championship. To commemorate the event’s 50th anniversary in 2023, the Museum will add additional pieces to this display.
Dennis Floden’s FAI gold medal, 1973
A few of the featured objects were donated by the first world champion himself. In 2012 Dennis “Denny” Floden of the U.S. made a large donation to the Museum that included his FAI world championship gold medal, his Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce balloon pilot badge, and his first-place fur coat, given to him by former New Mexico Governor Bruce King.
Dennis Floden’s name badge for the World Hot Air Balloon Championship, 1973
Floden’s pilot name badge was issued by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and declares, “Howdy Amigo!” and “Be Proud/Out Loud/About…/ALBUQUERQUE”. Handwritten in black marker over this, the badge reads, “Dennis Floden ‘Capt. Phogg’ Balloonist”.
As early as 1973, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce was a supporter of Balloon Fiesta. But they became even more involved when the City of Albuquerque formed a nonprofit citizens committee to run Balloon Fiesta in 1975. This group became the nonprofit organization Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc. (AIBF).
Dennis Floden’s championship coat, given to him by New Mexico Governor Bruce King, 1973
The State of New Mexico also gave its full support to Balloon Fiesta and the World Hot Air Balloon Championship. At the 1972 Balloon Fiesta, Governor Bruce King even shot the starting gun that began the race. And in 1973, King presented a long, sheepskin fur coat to the first World Champion Floden. Denny said he donated the coat to the Museum after moving from Michigan to Florida, where he wouldn’t be needing it.
Barograph tape from Dennis Floden’s World Hot Air Balloon Championship qualifying flight, 1973
Another object in the Museum’s collection related to Floden is the barograph tape from his U.S. elimination flight. This pre-competition flight earned him a spot on the four-member U.S. team at the World Championship. The barograph tape was donated by the Anderson family and the Maxie L. Anderson Foundation in 2004. Following the elimination flight, the barograph tape was adhered to a larger piece of paper and signed by the score keepers, including Clerk of the Course for the event, Ed Yost.
World Hot Air Balloon Championship Trophy, 1973-1975
Other notable objects on display include the custom-made traveling trophy from the event, which is on loan to the Museum from AIBF, and a barograph from the First World Championship that was donated by one of the original Balloon Fiesta pilots.
The trophy incorporates elements of Southwestern design. It features a silver, three-dimensional Montgolfière balloon with red cord bunting and turquoise stones along the equator. The balloon sits atop a wooden pedestal, where a name plate has “Dennis Floden” and 1975 World Champion “David Schaffer” engraved. There is space on the plaque for more names, but the trophy did not travel with the world championship as originally intended. A smaller version of this trophy was given to the 1973 and 1975 world champions.
Gene Dennis’s barograph, 1973
Finally, following the 2022 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, balloon pilot Gene Dennis offered to donate a piece of world championship history to the Museum. He was one of the original thirteen pilots to fly at the first-ever Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. He also flew in the elimination race at the first-ever World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Albuquerque the next year. He didn’t place in the top four for U.S. competitors, but after the event, organizers sold the barographs used in the championship. Dennis says he paid fifty dollars for the barograph and practiced with it before that year’s national championship. Unfortunately for him, barograph competitions soon fell out of favor.
Come learn more about the 1st World Hot Air Balloon Championship at the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum!
Top picture: Gene Dennis’s barograph, 1973
All photos courtesy of the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum