Displaying items by tag: ballooning

Thursday, 18 March 2021 16:47

Daring Balloon Ascension

balloon image

Montgomery County has a long history of ballooning. Both our readers might remember our blogs on Thaddeus Lowe, the father of American ballooning, and Connie Wolf, one time women’s ballooning record holder.

In 1909, Prof. Harry Jewell of Springfield, Illinois (balloonists were all “professors”) launched his balloon over Grand View Heights, part of Norristown and East Norriton that runs along DeKalb. The New England Land Company developed the area and was selling off lots at the time. The company provided a free trolley ride out to the area and several ascensions a day.

Grand View Heights 3

Professor Jewel didn’t just go up in a balloon, float for a while, and come back down. For one thing, Jewell, whose brothers Ed and Thomas were also balloonists, didn’t ride in a basket (or car). He held on to an iron bar. The southerly winds blew Jewell over to the Penn Square racetrack where Jewell let go and dropped by parachute to the ground. The Daily Herald reported that he encountered a large tree on the way down and suffered some scratches. The New England Land Company sold 32 lots.

balloon jump

In 1890, Prof. Harry’s brother Ed, performed a similar stunt in Pottstown. According to the Pottstown Ledger, he rose up to a height of 5000 feet (this might be exaggeration, most hot-air balloons don’t go higher than 3000 feet) before parachuting to the ground. The Ledger described him as “holding tightly to the hoop above,” which is how he appears in the advertisement. 

Ballooning was a common feature of fairs and circuses. In 1945, “Norris” (Edward Hocker) reported a 1908 quote from a Garrett N. Nichols of Oaks, “When I was a young lad, I was walking across a pasture field of the Indian Rock farm of Port Providence. I heard someone call. I halted, quickly looked around me, but could see no one. I began to think I was bewitched or had tramped on the hind leg of a ghost, when the voice sounded nearer. I looked up and there was a balloon. The man in the car asked many questions: the names of towns he could see and I could not – Royersford, Pottstown, Trappe, Skippack. He let go several bags of ballast sand, and up into the sky he went. Later I read he had landed near Boyerstown.”

According to Hocker, that aeronaut was Washington H. Donaldson, who would later disappear in a balloon over Lake Michigan.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 24 January 2019 18:56

“Sick of the Russians”


Connie Wolf in her balloon from the National Balloon Museum

In November of 1961, a fifty-six year old grandmother from Blue Bell broke the women’s ballooning endurance record in a hydrogen filled balloon called “Yellow Wolf.” Connie Wolf (née Cann) described herself to the Norristown Times-Herald as a “dedicated capitalist” who was “sick of the Russians holding all the records.” (November 21, 1961).

Connie Wolf first learned to fly airplanes on her honeymoon in 1931. Her husband, Alfred L. Wolf was a lawyer and an enthusiastic pilot. He later went on to have a distinguished career in the Air Force. It wasn’t until 20 years later that she learned ballooning while her husband was stationed in Germany. It became her passion.

In 1952, Mrs. Wolf was one of the founders of the Balloon Club of America, which flew from Valley Forge Airport until its closure. It then moved to Whig’s Field in Whitpain Township, right next to the Wolfs' home “Wingover.”

80 days

The poster for Around the World in 80 Days from IMDB

Even before her world record flight, Connie Wolf was a well-known balloonist. She served as a technical consultant on the movie Around the World in 80 Days which won the best picture Oscar for 1956. Connie flew the balloon featured in the movie, “La Coquette,” over Paris and London to promote its release.

In 1960, she put a “Nixon-Lodge” banner on her balloon. Nixon himself gave a speech from the balloon’s gondola (it was on the ground at the time).

Her record breaking flight did not take place in Montgomery County, however. She took off in her large balloon known as “Yellow Wolf” on November 12, 1961 from Big Spring, Texas. She landed over forty hours later in Boley, Oklahoma. She had broken 15 different records, including the women’s endurance record which had previously been held by a Russian woman named L. Ivanova (her first name isn’t listed even in the official record). Her record was 34 hours, 21 minutes, and it was set in 1948.


Big Spring, TX to Boley, OK on Google Maps

At the time of her flight, the Times-Herald reported that Connie Wolf was the only licensed female balloonist in the US. Montgomery County celebrated her achievement by declaring December 21, 1961 “Connie Wolf Day.” She was also awarded the Montgolfier Award by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She was the first woman ever to receive that honor.


Although the forty hour trip exhausted her, Connie Wolf went back to ballooning. In 1976 she flew a Liberty Bell shaped balloon for the bicentennial, and in 1982 she flew a balloon with an image of William Penn from Penn’s Landing in honor of the tercentennial of the founding of Pennsylvania.

In 1986, the couple founded the Wolf Aviation Fund, which promotes general aviation through various grants and programs.

When Connie died in 1994, she still held the women’s endurance record. It was broken the following year by Lesley P. Davis of the USA who flew for over 60 hours.  Connie was inducted into the National Balloon Museum's Hall of Fame in 2015.

Published in Found in Collection