The following pages are verbatim accounts of the Races, written by anonymous reporters at the time. Most of them come from the Herald, Bennett’s newspaper. Other stories come from various magazines of the time. These were first copied from microfiche, and then transcribed by this editor, George C Denniston MD, the author of The Joy of Ballooning, and Flying Concorde (available from

We welcome contributions from everyone who has a story that is not included here. We would like to have stories written by winners of these races in the language of their respective countries, as well as in English. In this way, citizens in every country in Europe can enjoy the role their country played in these exciting races. We reserve the right to decide whether or not to include articles submitted, and will gratefully acknowledge the donor.  Please send submissions to geocdenn “at”






On May 6, 1835, the New York Herald began publication under James Gordon Bennett, 40, a Scots-American who started his newspaper with $500 in capital, an old dry goods box, and two wooden chairs in a cellar office. He charged one cent for a copy of his paper. Some years later, he was instrumental in creating the Associated Press, which was needed to reduce the cost of telegraphing news from Europe to America.

Some years later, in 1867, his son, James Gordon Bennett Jr, succeeded to the editorship of the paper. He was 26 years old. After he had been in office only a year or so (1869), he sent Henry Morgan Stanley, one of his reporters, to Africa to find the Scottish missionary doctor, David Livingstone, 56, missing on his search for the source of the Nile. Stanley finds Livingstone in October of 1871 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, and greets him: “Dr Livingstone, I presume.” James Gordon Bennett Jr had an exclusive on all of Stanley’s reports, and sold a lot of newspapers. He knew how to make the news, not just report it.


In 1887, Bennett begins publication of the Paris Herald. This is the European edition of the New York Herald, and is designed to provide Americans abroad with news of the day. Even though it did not always make money, it was set up to provide a service. It continues today as the Herald Tribune, Paris edition. It keeps this name, even though the New York Herald Tribune shut down its presses in 1966.


In 1900, Count Henry de la Vaulx of the Aero Club of France, flew 1,195 miles from Paris to Russia, and set a new world distance record for manned flight. His flight lasted 36 hours, and he flew as high as 18,800 feet above sea level. On the way, he speculated about the countries over which he was passing, wondering what his reception would be like were he to land in one of them. He claimed "there was nothing like the zest that comes of this uncertainty!" As it was, when he did finally land in Tsarist Russia, he was clapped into jail for 24 hours. His captors, Russian officers, "persecuted me by opening so many bottles of French champagne that I was in great distress." This flight increased the interest in ballooning all over Europe. His world distance record stood for 12 years.


In 1905 James Gordon Bennett (Jr) offered a cup in France for auto racing. The French disagreed with his rules, so he withdrew the cup. Then he decided to give a cup for gas balloons. The first race was to be held in 1906. It would start in Paris.


Unlike other races, the Gordon Bennett competitors do not have a finish line. It could be anywhere on the circumference of a circle whose center is the starting city. The pilots also had no idea how long they would be in the air. They are limited by the amount of ballast they can carry to a maximum of 5 days, but they could be forced to land much sooner than that, if their ballast had to be discharged to stabilize flight. They have to be prepared for landings on land, or on water. If they land in salt water, they are disqualified, and they still have to figure out how to survive. If they land in a forest, they have had to survive for days before they can walk out or be rescued.


The basic rule of this race is that the balloon that goes the farthest wins. Measurements are made on the Great Circle from the starting point to the point of touchdown, or landing. The same gas (hydrogen)  was used by all balloons until 2005. Their size is also restricted. One year a balloon was disqualified because it filled up after dark, while the others had all filled up in sunlight and departed. It was recognized that this competitor had an unfair advantage over all the others due to the greater amount of gas he could start out with, thanks to the lower evening temperature.


Each country is allowed to enter three balloons, and both pilot and co-pilot have to be from the same country, although that was not always the case. A random drawing before the start determines the order of takeoff.


The nations that have competed in the James Gordon Bennett Cup are: Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, United States, Virgin Islands. Each one of them has had its day, and this book is celebrating those triumphs.


There were essentially three groups of races: those that occurred before World War I; those between the two World Wars, and those of the modern era, actually begun again in 1979, but officially beginning in 1983. In 2006, the 100th Anniversary of the Coupe Gordon Bennett, the 50th Race was held, and they continue to this day.


In many ways, the participants behave like the elitists they are. For example, until recently, they were very careful to tell no one where each balloon happened to be. It was most difficult for anyone to find out what was happening during the race. It turns out that this was unfair, as some crews were able to find the whereabouts of a competitor and pass it on to their pilot, while other balloons did not know. Now, with the internet, each balloon carries a transponder, and one can locate each balloon at any moment during the entire race. Every pilot can know where every other pilot is, and in this respect, the playing field is leveled.


More important, the world can follow the race in real time, and cheer for their country’s balloon. The internet is still new to the race organizers, but they are trying to figure out how to maximize the display, and provide enough information so that millions of people can enjoy the race in real time, and support the future of this magnificent sport.



L’action vraie mène l’homme à sa plénitude et tout arte qui l’engage sur cette voie est une action valablement humaine.    

Real action leads man to his full potential and every activity that engages him in this way is a valuable human action.    Ernest Demuyter, Belgian Champion



                                                A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY OF BALLOONING


Russia might well have claimed to be the first nation to conquer the air, thanks to a Russian army officer named Kris Kutnoi who flew a balloon made of skins, filled with smoke, in 1731. But the peasants who witnessed the flight believed he was flying in defiance of the law of God, which allowed only the birds to take to the air. They assaulted him, and "only by luck was he saved from being burned alive." Later, the church suppressed the flight, thus rightly depriving Russia, thanks to superstition, of the honor, which went to France in 1783. Against God's will to fly!


Many people are confused by the differences between various types of balloons. We take this opportunity to clarify the issue for all those who want to know. There are three basic types: hot air balloons, gas balloons, and Roziere balloons. They are so different that each one has its own separate categories for claiming records, and within these categories, they are further distinguished by the size of the balloon.


A hot air balloon was the first aircraft to fly with humans aboard. On November 21, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes took off in Paris and landed just outside Paris 25 minutes later. The problem was that they stayed up by throwing straw on a metal grid suspended just below the mouth of the balloon. They used sponges to put out any attempts by the open fire to set their craft ablaze. With rare exceptions, this technique was not tried again until 1960 (177 years later) when Ed Yost took off in Bruning, Nebraska in a modern hot air balloon. He had better control of the flame, and was able to direct it into the mouth of the balloon without risking the entire envelope. The hot air balloon rises, because the hot air inside the envelope is lighter than the surrounding air, so the cooler heavier air displaces it, and takes the balloon up with it. To descend, the pilot simply stops heating the air - the balloon cools, and descends. Most hot air balloons that we see at festivals can carry from one to 12 people, and can stay up a maximum of three hours. Exceptional hot air balloons have been made. One crossed the Pacific Ocean with Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson (of Virgin Airways and Records fame) by being so large that it could carry enough fuel to stay up for days. Flying at 30,000 feet in the jet stream, the intrepid pair crossed the Pacific in a couple of days, sometimes going over 200 miles per hour.


A gas balloon flew passengers a mere ten days after the first flight. On December 1, 1783, Professor Charles flew his hydrogen-filled balloon from Paris. It was this type of balloon that continued to fly throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, and is still flying in the 21st. All of the basic elements of the modern gas balloon were present in that remarkable balloon of Professor Charles. The gondola was suspended under the gasbag with the use of a net. There was an opening in the bottom of the gasbag, so that as the balloon ascended and the gas expanded, it did not burst the bag, but simply escaped. The gondola carried ballast that it could discharge overboard, to make the balloon rise. A valve to release gas at the top was added later. With this equipment, the gas balloon could remain in the air for some three days. Each night the cool air contracted the gas, and the balloon descended. Only by throwing ballast overboard could the balloon remain aloft. After three to five days at the maximum, it had run out of ballast and had to land. This is the type of balloon that was prevalent in 1906, and which, with modifications, remains the balloon that is used in the Gordon Bennett Cup races to this day.


The Roziere balloon was originally tried by the world's first aeronaut, Pilatre de Rozier. He knew he should not do this, but the pressure on him was too great, so he ascended in a highly flammable hydrogen balloon with an open flame beneath it to keep it warm! He took off from the coast of France to try to reach England. He started out to sea, but the wind brought him and his companion back over land. The bag caught fire in midair, and the first pilot became the world's first aviation fatality statistic. This type of balloon was re-invented a few decades ago, using non-flammable helium in a sphere above a cone-shaped base that contains air heated by propane, as in hot air balloons. A large Roziere can carry enough propane to maintain altitude for some 20 days. The beauty here is that, instead of throwing ballast overboard, you burn it to keep the helium warm at night. Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Brian Jones of Great Britain were the first to fly non-stop around the world in a balloon, and it was of course a Roziere.

There are other types of balloons, less common but fascinating.

Solar balloons are powered by the sun. The sun heats them until they are ready to take off. They better have a sufficiently large valve to vent hot air, or they may find themselves on a one-way trip toward the sun.

Superpressure balloons have been made to maintain a certain altitude. They must be made of material that can withstand pressure from within. Unmanned balloons of this type have circled the globe many times, on scientific missions.

Huge gas-filled mylar balloons have also been used for scientific purposes. They can be as large as 70 million cubic feet! They rise into the stratosphere, to 120,000 feet in the daytime, and then gradually descend at night, but get no lower than 60,000 feet, so that when the sun rises, they heat up and start ascending again. This is called racooning, and allows them to circle the earth.

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