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Souvenirs and Collectibles of the Explorer Balloon Flights

In the first installment of the Souvenirs and Collectibles of the National Geographic Society - U. S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Balloon Flights of 1934 and 1935, we discussed the only official souvenir from the stratosphere flights made available to the members of the National Geographic Society, the Explorer II Bookmark.  We started this series discussing  a memento made available after the successful conclusion of the second stratosphere balloon flight.  Now, let us venture back to July 28, 1934 and discuss "souvenir" fabric strips from the first Explorer Balloon flight.  We will then discuss other collectible fabric strips from the preparation and flight of Explorer II.


Believing the stratosphere should be conquered by the U. S. Army Air Corps, Captain Albert W. Stevens wrote, on February 27, 1933, to Major General Foulois, Air Corps Chief of Staff, proposing "a high altitude balloon flight to 60,000 feet or more".  Based on recommendations from the Plans Division, Foulois disapproved the proposal.  However Foulois  indicated in his reply that the Air Corps might participate if the project was funded by another group.  This was all the impetus that Stevens needed and by the end of 1933 had gained the funding support from the National Geographic Society and the logistical support from the Army Air Corps.  Preparations for an assault on the stratosphere began early the next year and at 5:45 a.m., July 28, 1934 the Explorer Balloon lifted off from the Stratobowl just outside of Rapid City, SD.  By 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, the gondola lay crushed in a cornfield and the remnants of the balloon scattered over several acres outside of Holdrege, NE (for the complete story of the Explorer Balloon flight, see the October 1934 National Geographic Magazine).  In a sense, the balloon itself had offered those in attendance a memento of the first Explorer Balloon flight.  The crowd of spectators became "relentless souvenir hunters".  Undoubtedly, everyone walked away with a piece of the balloon that day.  Occasionally, pieces of the Explorer Balloon are offered for sale.  Although not a piece of the balloon that flew on July 24, 1934, the Stratosphere Mail that was carried aloft in Explorer had a small swatch of fabric that had been trimmed from the balloon and attached to the enclosed letter (more about the Stratosphere Mail and FDC's in the future).  Examples of both the swatch and remnants of the Explorer Balloon can be seen in the photos attached to this discussion.


During preparations for the first, second ,and third attempts to explore the stratosphere, members of the crew and support staff would hand out small strips of the balloon fabric to visitors at the Stratocamp.  Often these strips were signed.  Two examples are showin the attached photos.  One is signed by O. A. Anderson, Explorer II Balloon Pilot and the other by J. F. Cooper, Master Balloon Builder for the Goodyear-Zepplin Company.


Wanting to promote their part in the Explorer Balloon flights, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company had a portion of the Explorer II Balloon fabric cut into irregular shaped strips.  As in the NGS Explorer II Bookmark, the Goodyear strips are printed on both sides.  Three examples are shown in the attached photos in order to show the different shape and sizes of this souvenir.  The strips shown are roughly 2 1/2" x 6" to 8".


Surely one of the most rare, if not the only politically motivated memento created from the Explorer II fabric were pieces cut and printed for and passed out by the Hon. Theo B. Werner, Representative from the 2nd Congressional District of South Dakota.  The example shown in the photo measures 3" x 8".


Please take this opportunity to share your examples of souvenir strips of fabric from the Explorer Balloon flights.


Next week's topic:  The DowMetal Commemorative Token.

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Great job Charlie!

Of course, I have never heard of these related items you have outlined above. Roger Nathan's book only covered the Society bookmark, and the DOW coin. Buxbaum just mentioned the one version of the bookmark.

- Scott S.

Your comment is appreciated and is a good example of the adage that "when it comes to collecting National Geographic, you can't collect it all". Both Buxbaum and Nathan provided important information about the collectibles of the National Geographic Society. Without either one, we would just have to fumble along in our collecting. But it would be virturally impossible to list all of the collectible items from or related to the National Geographic Society in one book or even a series of books. Fortunately, we now have this forum to share our stories, lists and unique finds as they relate to the collectibles of the National Geographic Society.




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