Tuesday, August 30, 2016

When the Goodyear Blimp Went Shopping

Most Akron residents have seen the Goodyear Blimp at one time or another, but one thing they have probably never seen is the blimp landing somewhere other than Wingfoot Lake or out near the Airdock.

That wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1920’s when the company was first getting its fleet off the ground, no clear strategy had been formed for exactly how the blimps were going to be used. Everyone felt they would be a great promotional tool, and would be helpful in supporting Goodyear’s image as an advanced technology company of the time, but the whole concept was still new and in its formative stage. Of course, the first item of business was to paint the Goodyear name on the side in big letters.

During the infancy of the airship industry, it was clear that they were seen as new mode of transportation. While the large, rigid-framed zeppelins of the day were huge and not easy to maneuver, blimps were much smaller, (much smaller than they are now) safer (filled with helium rather than hydrogen) and much easier to handle. They could be landed and secured almost anywhere you could install a mooring mast—which, for blimps—did not have to be that big.

To demonstrate this, someone in the Goodyear publicity department cooked up a scheme to land the company’s first commercial blimp, The Pilgrim, on the roof of O’Neil’s department store on Main Street. We don’t know how much advance notice the public had of the stunt, but it’s not hard to imagine the stunned faces of onlookers downtown as the blimp made its approach and finally—a landing.

Goodyear airship attendants scramble to get The Pilgrim into position for landing.
Archival records seem to indicate this was about 1928; that sounds about right, since one of the photos shows that Polsky’s, which broke ground for its store in 1929, was not built yet. You can clearly see the Summit County Court House right behind the Pilgrim.

Whether anyone thought this had any practical use can’t really be determined. Company president Paul Litchfield did see a practical use for blimps as “airborne yachts”—and he stated that blimps could “serve a similar purpose for persons living inland as do yachts for those living along the seacoast”

A 1929 article in Flight magazine stated it thus:

“It is claimed that there is a great future for this type of and its mooring masts should be found at country clubs, private estates, etc., while the holding of airship regattas—in the same way that motor boat and yachting clubs now have similar events—can also be held with success. Personally, we think this small “blimp” type of airship possesses great possibilities from the sporting point of view, as is the case with ballooning—although, of course, ” blimping ” conies out a trifle more expensive.”

The portable mooring mast which was developed for use at any flat, level location.
To this end, the company even developed a portable mooring mast. The demonstration version of this was attached to a Ford, and used with some success. This portable mast would allow it to land in any flat level field of sufficient size; like a horse farm. Or a private estate. Or a country club. Unfortunately, the utility of taking “the lady of the household” shopping at her favorite department store was not demonstrated to a practical extent, either.


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