1909 Balloon Race Preparations

The following articles are from the Indianapolis Star and the topic is the first competition ever staged at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - the Aero Club of America National Balloon Championship of 1909.
The article in attachment IMSBalloonRace020909 was published February 9, 1909 and announces a development that apparently had been finalized weeks prior - the Aero Club of America planned to stage their first national championship at the yet-to-be-constructed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The man at the center of the deal was Carl Fisher who was also, among a vast list of other business interests, the president of the newly formed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company as well as the president of the of the Aero Club of Indiana. Fisher negotiated hard for the deal and there can be little doubt that the promise of the vast facility of the Speedway was a factor in his ability to win the event for Indianapolis over the primary competitor, St. Louis. A feature of the new Speedway was a pipeline that had been constructed to supply the necessary gas from the Indianapolis Gas Company to inflate the balloons. This investment was done with the idea of events like this balloon race in mind. The article also notes that Fisher was leaving for the Chicago Auto Show.
Fisher, Dr. Goethe Link (an Indiana University observatory is named after him) and Russe "R.J." Irvin were the leading Hoosiers named as potential competiors. Fisher's balloon - with partner Captain George Bumbaugh - name was announced: the "Hoosier." This proved to be incorrect as Fisher ended up piloting the "Indiana." Link and Irvin were partners as well and their balloon was the "Indianapolis."
Published the same day was an odd, whimsical piece that reflects in a poetic style on the sensations of floating in a balloon. This article is in attachment AeronautWhimsey020909. I thought this underscored the excitement the city had over the victory of attracting a big event - and subsequently a big economic injection - to Indianapolis.
Dr. W.N. Fowler of Bluffton, Indiana contacted Indiana aero officials about his interest in the upcoming balloon competition. He represented a famous exploratory adventure - the Chicgo Record Herald - Wellman Expedition. This Septemer 1907 effort, led by Walter Wellman, was an attempt to reach the North Pole by air in the airship America. They failed to reach their destination due to bad weather. As an airship equiped with engines and torpedo-like in desgin the America did not comply with the rules of the Speedway event. Dr. Fowler was seeking to fly the vessel as an exhibition associated with the Speedway's contest. The image in attachment IMShopeful was pulished in the Indianapolis Star on April 25, 1909. For whatever reason Fowler and the America never appeared at the Speedway.
Attachment CloudRacers050809 contains an image published by the Indianapolis Star on May 8, 1909 - less than a month from the balloon championship. The photo shows three balloons under construction inside the Indiana State Fairgrounds coliseum. Bumbaugh was overseeing the work. Excitment was mounting in Indianapolis and local balloonists prepared their mounts.
Attachment BumbaughNote042709 contains a very brief note within a digest column that referenced a planning meeting held at the Fisher Automobile Company as Aero Club of Indiana President Fisher led a discussion about plans for the June 5 event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Captain Bumbaugh also addressed the group as both men trumpted the significance of the event to the city.
In an article published May 16, 1909 (attachment WrightsIMS051609) the Indianapolis Star reported that Carl Fisher had  visited the Wright Brothers in Columbus, Ohio to ask them to exhibit one of the airplanes at the June 5 national balloon event at the Speedway. The rest of the article is an interesting read about how the Wrights were licensing their airplane design to other countries. They were also being recognized with medals and statues in other countries - notably Italy, England, France and Germany. The article also discusses how, despite recognition from President Howard Taft, the United States was way behind other countries in making investments in aviation.
Attachment BalloonOfficers052009 contains an Indianapolis Star article published May 20, 1909 that reports that officers charged with directing the national championship balloon race had been chosen. Rules had been established and 4,000 color posters had been distributed from "Maine to California." Two races were planned, a handicap and the national championship some predicted would last a week before the final balloon would land. The Speedway provided a "fire proof and burglar proof" house competitors could store their balloons. Among those there at the time were Bumbaugh's Columbia and Kathleen; Coey's Chicago and A. Holland Forbes' New York.
Among the rules were any water landing meant immediate disqualification and any competitor's race was over immediately after touching the ground. Only certified pilots were allowed to compete and balloons were limited to a maximum capacity of 2,200 cubic meters. Fisher had announced a special trophy for the pilot remaining in the air for the longest time.
The officials were a stellar lot. The Contest Committee was A. Holland Forbes, J.C. McCoy and Charles M. Manly. The Special Assisting Committee was J. Parke Channing, Charles Jerome Edwards, Augustus Post, Jefferson De Mont Thompson and Alan R. Hawley. The Timekeeper and Starter was Charles J. Glidden, the founder of the Glidden Tour for automobiles.
On May 25, 1909 the Indanapolis News evening newspaper published an article (attachment BalloonNews052509) updating preparations for the national championship races. It confirmed the appointment of the officers to the positions listed above. It affirmed the Claypool Hotel as headquarters for the race as well as provided other interesting insights to how the event would be conducted. Among them:

  • The race was purely for distance and the winning pilot would be presented with an Aero Club of America trophy.
  • Every pilot starting in the race would be presented with a silver medal and each assistant would receive one in bronze.
  • There was a $25 entry fee refundable on the condition that the balloon started the race.
  • For an addition $1 pilots could enter the Lahm Cup balloon race.
  • Only pilots certified by the Aero Club of America were eligible.
  • The capacity of an eligible balloon is limitd to 80,000 cubic feet.
  • Landing in water was cause for immediate disqualification.

Another Indianapolis News article, this one published May 27, 1909 (attachement BalloonNews052709) reviews the field of entries. For the most part the information proved accurate to the field that was eventually assembled. A notable exception is that Charles Walsh is named as a pilot but he was acutally an aid to pilot Captain Thomas Baldwin in the Hoosier. For the most aids are not named and neither are balloon names. The interesting detail I have not found elsewhere is the notation that pilot A.H. Morgan was a millionaire from Mound City, Kansas. For a list of the balloons, pilots and aids that actually did compete in the two races check out information eleswhere on First Super Speedway. The article mentions a "who's who" list of luminaries of the age that planned to attend. Many of them were the people listed as officers above. Others include Harvard Professor H. Helm Clayton a distinguished meterologist of the age undoubtedly invited due to the importance atmospheric conditions played in presenting the event.
Attachment BalloonNews052909 contains some images and an article published in the Indianapolis News that provides updates on the readiness of the Speedway for the big event. Much of the information shared had been published elsewhere earlier, such as a list of the officials noted above, as well as the pilots, balloons and aids. Other points accentuated by the article are: 1) that the Aero Club of America planned to present a giant silver trophy to the winners, 2) that this was the club's first national championship event but plans called for it to be an annual affair, 3) that the "Big Four" train lines planned a special schedule of trains to the Speedway every 20 minutes and 4) grandstands had been constructed to accommodate 6,000 spectators. The images embedded in this PDF are available elsewhere on First Super Speedway as seperate PNG image files.
Attachment BalloonInsurance060109 is a short article that mashes up a few points connected only by their relevance to the balloon event. It ledes with an intersting point that Dr. Link had his insurance companies cancel the policies he carried with them due to the danger of his pastime. The article also noted that J.R. Irvin failed to complete his pilot certification so he could not compete in that role for the race. He signed on as the aid to Captain Thomas Baldwin of the New York. Irvin, along with Fisher and Bumbaugh were the only Indiana residents on the entry list. The Indianapolis gas company also shared that they were delivering a higher-than-usual quality grade that promised better "lifting qualities." The gas company also committed to a special crew of 30 men working around the clock to insure there would no issues with balloon inflation.
The June 2, 1909 Indianapolis Star article in attachment BalloonistForbes060209 reports on several developments including the arrival of A. Holland Forbes in Indianapolis and Carl Fisher's completion of his balloon pilot's certification with  the required nighttime ascension. Forbes and his aid, Clifford Harmon, were set to fly the uniquely constructed New York balloon. Unlike the typical racing balloons it was not varnished and instead constructed of layers of cloth and labor. The balloon cost $4,000.
Forbes said he felt Indianapolis was an excellent center for ballooning, superior to New York. He felt the logistics of arranging for inflation and the wide open spaces far from the ocean made it easier and safer to enjoy flight. Forbes also shared that he prefered flying at night largely because there was more consistency with the air temperatures than during the day when the sun might occasionally be blocked by clouds. Temperature fluctuations expanded or contracted the gas in the balloons requiring pilots to make adjustments with ballast and gas. Forbes also descibed his provisions from containers of pea soup to blankets, can openers and other tools. The final portion of the article reports that both Fisher and Coey completed their nighttime flights for their licenses. An interesting aspect of Fisher's flight is that he was joined by auto racer and buddy Barney Oldfield.
Attachment IMScup060409 is an image of the trophy designed for the winners of the handicap race with a caption that was published in the June 4, 1909 Indianapolis Star. The caption not only describes the loving cup which was provided by the Indianapolis Merchants' Association but also progress on the construction of the Speedway and plans for motorcycle races in July (they were eventually postponed to August) and auto races in August.

IMSBalloonRace020909.pdf1.2 MB
AeronautWhimsey020909.pdf537.91 KB
CloudRacers050809.pdf334.15 KB
IMShopeful.pdf553.29 KB
WrightsIMS051609.pdf1.11 MB
BalloonOfficers052009.pdf508.78 KB
BalloonNews052509.pdf2.79 MB
BalloonNews052709.pdf2.61 MB
BalloonNews052909.pdf3.51 MB
BalloonInsurance060109.pdf510.17 KB
BalloonistForbes060209.pdf401.11 KB
IMScup060409.pdf390.26 KB