The 1880s: When special shapes first took flight

Special shapes fill the air over Albuquerque Tuesday during the 2014 Balloon Fiesta (Carey Olson, KRQE News 13)
Special shapes fill the air over Albuquerque Tuesday during the 2014 Balloon Fiesta (Carey Olson, KRQE News 13)

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Darth Vader, the bumble bees, a killer whale, they’re some of the most beloved balloons of Fiesta and they’re all special shapes.

“Everyone loves special shapes and everyone has their favorite,” Marilee Nason, curator of collections at the Balloon Museum, said.

But their history goes father back then you might think. To find out how they arrived at Balloon Fiesta, you have to turn back the clock about 130 years to the 1880s.

“Where it all began is really a lot further back than most people realize,” Nason said.

It was a British man, Lieutenant Lempriere, who’s credited with the first known special shape. The balloon was a gas net balloon, called “Cherry Blossom.” It was a perfume bottle, acting as an advertisement.

Fast forward to about 1975.

“Balloon pilots were getting kind of too serious and they thought that things needed to lighten up a bit,” she said.

So the special shapes were brought into the modern era and to the United States.

It was just a few years later, in 1989, when the fist special shapes rodeo took place at Balloon Fiesta.

One of the first special shapes was “Chick-I-Boom.” It’s a tribute to famous dancer, known for her fruit head garb, Carmen Miranda. After that, it took off, with more and more special shapes year after year. The most ever at Fiesta was 108 special shape balloons.

“People come up with just the most amazing ideas about what they would like to fly,” Nason said.

There were early balloons like Mr. Peanut and Levi’s Jeans, to today’s well-known special shapes. Now in addition to the rodeo with the special shapes Glowdeo, special shapes continue to be one of the favorite Fiesta spectacles. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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