ASHLAND -- By the 1960’s, Ashland, Ohio had become known as the “Balloon Capital of the World.”
This was thanks to the workers in local companies such as Eagle Rubber Co. (now Hedstrom), General Latex, Mohican Rubber Co., and Ashland Rubber who were producing an average of 8 million balloons per day.
All of the balloons used at Disney World at that time were made right here in Ashland. It seemed fitting that Ashland should celebrate its success by having a Balloon Festival.
Beginning in 1963 and for the next few years, Ashland celebrated its place in industry with parades, balloon-making demonstrations, pageants, food, music, war displays, and contests.
Miss Susan Elizabeth Roberts, a 19-year-old Ashlander and freshman at Miami University, served as Balloon Festival Queen after being selected from a group of 25 candidates.
Although the Balloon Festival’s focus was on toy balloons, the 1963 event also highlighted a flight that took off from Brookside by pilot Don Piccard, who was the first to cross the English Channel in a hot air balloon.
One of the most popular Balloon Festivals was in 1965, when the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday, of Ashland was also celebrated. The festival that year was a week-long event. There was a talent event and pageant, and amusement rides were set up in the parking lot between Luther Street and Claremont Avenue and farm implements were displayed in another parking lot.
Visitors and former residents were invited to tour the city. The Cleveland Browns and the Indians played in a celebrity golf game at the Country Club.
Saturday was highlighted by a doubleheader featuring the Ohio State Fastpitch Softball Champion Faultless Rubbermen and the World Champion Burch Grinding Co. team from Detroit.
On Sunday, churchgoers went to their own church of worship but the day ended with a union service at the Guy C. Myers Band Shell. The Ashland High School Choir sang and the speaker was the Rev. Dudley Riggle, an Ashland native.
Several parades also took place in 1965. One early in the week was devoted to agriculture, another to children and youth and the third was a grand, two-hour parade on Saturday that featured floats, antique cars and marching units.