May 21, 1921
The 1921 National Balloon Race launched from Birmingham on this date. The ballooning competition was a major cornerstone of the city’s celebration of its “semicentennial,” or 50th, year and followed the success of the 1920 International Balloon Race held in Birmingham the previous year. For the competition, Sen. Tom Heflin secured a U.S. Navy blimp from Pensacola, Florida for added excitement. C.G. Andrus, U.S. Weather Bureau, was joined by Ralph Upson, 1913 winner of the Gordon Bennett Cup, as captains of the Birmingham Semi-Centennial during an evening liftoff May 21. The balloon remained afloat more than 34 hours, and on May 23, the duo safely landed as winners of the competition. Upson and Andrus took the balloon to the International Spherical Balloon Race, but it was disqualified. Still, they finished third of 14 teams, after competing in a borrowed bag from a fellow balloonist.
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.