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Museum History

Museum History

The National Balloon Museum came to be in Indianola because of its association with the early days of the National Hot Air Balloon Championships beginning in 1970. In 1970 Don Kersten of Fort Dodge Iowa, who was then president of the fledgling Balloon Federation of American (B.F.A.), was looking for a site for the National Hot Air Balloon Championship. Don Kersten, Ed Yost of South Dakota, inventor of the modern hot air balloon and a founder of Raven Industries and Don Piccard of California, went to Ken Faulk at the Iowa State Fair to see about having the event at the Iowa State Fair. Since the Fair Grounds did not have space for the preliminary events it was decided to have only the ten finalists do the final mass ascension in front of the Grandstand. Therefore, another nearby site had to be found for the preliminary events which would narrow the field from eighteen entries to ten finalists. They settled on Indianola and Simpson College and its athletic fields. Intially the balloon pilots and their crews were housed in private homes. Later Simpson dormitory buildings were used to house the pilots and crews.

The success of this first event led to the U. S. National Championships to return to Indianola the following year where the event remained for 18 years.

Almost immediately there developed an interest in displaying items about the history of ballooning. Beginning in 1972 exhibits of ballooning history were set up in temporary displays in various locations in the city each year during the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships. The materials then had to be stored until the next year. In the years 1972 through 1974 the ballooning memorabilia was set up in a room in the Indianola Chamber of Commerce office located in the Berry building on the southwest corner of the Indianola Square.

Jim and Maxine Weinman of Indianola became two key leaders in museum development and management of the museum and its growing collections. Jim’s involvement began in 1975 and Maxine’s involvement began in 1978. Maxine, wife of Jim, began assisting Jim with the museum work in 1978. She was named co-chair of the committee, and eventually became the curator and store manager. Maxine’s dedicated service to the Museum eventually spanned 25 years until she retired in 2003. Mary Conklin also became a key worker for the Museum in 1979 and was one of the museum’s most active volunteers.

Beginning in October of 1979, the museum had its first year-round home in a Simpson College house at 711 North E Street. The museum collections remained here until 1984.

The plan to build a museum received a big boost on August 5, 1983 when Leo and Jill Eisenberg of Kansas City, Missouri had made a gift of $100,000 toward the building of a new Museum. Other large donations put the fund raising well on its way. Among those were the following:

  • $100,000 from the City of Indianola which also pledged $65,000 to develop the site
  • $50,000 from First Central Bank of Chariton in the form of the land appraised at $50,000
  • $50,000 from the Laverty Foundation of Indianola, Iowa
  • $50,000 from the State Historical Society of Iowa
  • Countless other donations under $50,000 given by hundreds of individuals and balloon clubs and other organizations made the museum possible. Their names are listed on special wall plaques and in a special book on display in the museum.

The Museum building upper structure was designed to suggest two inverted balloons. The entrance arches made in graduated sizes are intended to give the feeling of entering an inflated balloon before it is heated enough to stand upright. The structure is trimmed in blue, yellow and white ceramic tiles that represent the serenity and gracefulness associated with balloon flight.