A Brief History of the Goodyear Blimp

The goodyear blimp flies over the course at the PGA Championship.
The goodyear blimp flies over the course at the PGA Championship.
Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

If you tuned in to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series last night, you were treated to spectacular aerial views of Dodger Stadium and greater Los Angeles courtesy of one of Goodyear's blimps. America's most recognizable airships, the tire and rubber company's "Aerial Ambassadors," travel more than 100,000 miles each year to cover more than 80 sporting events. Here's a brief history of how Goodyear's blimps have evolved.

What's a Blimp?

A blimp is simply a balloon filled with nonflammable helium and propelled by an engine. Goodyear blimps are powered by two aircraft engines. Lt. A.D. Cunningham of Great Britain's Royal Navy Air Service is often credited with coining the term "blimp." As the story goes, Cunningham, who commanded an air station in England during World War I, plucked the material of His Majesty's Airship SS-12 and it made a strange sound. "Blimp," is how Cunningham supposedly described it.

The Goodyear Blimp's Origins

pilgrim-blimpGoodyear has manufactured over 300 airships since the company was founded in 1898. In March 1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels awarded contracts to four American firms for the construction of 16 non-rigid airships, of which nine were to be produced by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Two years later, a Goodyear-owned airship being tested for future passenger service caught fire and crashed through the glass roof of a Chicago building, killing 11 people. Determined to maintain its position as America's leading manufacturer of airships, Goodyear purchased the rights and patents to build zeppelin-style airships in 1924. One year later, Goodyear launched the Pilgrim, the first commercial non-rigid airship flown using helium.

World War II and Beyond

Goodyear provided at least two different types of airships for the Navy during World War II. The first airships were rigid and served as airborne aircraft carriers, but proved difficult to handle in certain conditions and were destroyed. Goodyear later provided non-rigid airships capable of aerial surveillance, which the Navy made use of until 1962. Today, Goodyear operates three non-rigid airships, or blimps: the Spirit of Goodyear (based in Akron, Ohio), the Spirit of America (Carson, Calif.), and the Spirit of Innovation (Pompano Beach, Fla.). The Spirit of Innovation, which was christened in 2006 and is filled with 20,000 cubic feet of helium, is the newest blimp in the fleet and the first to be named by the public in a "name-the-blimp" contest.

Goodyear Enters the Sports Arena

Two years before the Navy discontinued its blimp program, Goodyear pioneered the use of blimps to provide aerial coverage at sporting events.

In 1960, the first images from a camera installed on one of Goodyear's blimps were broadcast on national television from Miami's Orange Bowl.

The technology has improved dramatically since then, including the introduction of gyrostabilized camera mounts in 1984. All three blimps in Goodyear's current fleet feature electronic sign technology and can display text, animation, and video. Cruising high above the action at Super Bowls, playoff games, NASCAR and horse races, and golf tournaments, the Goodyear blimp's purpose is to see and be seen, and not only by the fans in attendance. If the Goodyear blimp is at an event that you're watching on television, you'll know it, and not only because of its distinctive shots. At some point during the game, the broadcasters will announce that aerial coverage has been provided by Goodyear, and they might even mention the name of the blimp's pilot. The recognition accomplishes the same goal as a 30-second commercial for Goodyear, which will receive a lot of airtime in the coming weeks. "I'd say baseball is where we receive the most recognition," Goodyear public relations manager Jerry Jenkins told FoxSportsBiz.com in 2000. "During the baseball playoffs in October, our fleet of three blimps can be on the air for as many as 12 to 15 days in the month."

The Goodyear Blimp on the Big Screen

black-sunday The tagline for John Frankenheimer's 1977 film, Black Sunday, sounds like it's straight out of Beyond Balderdash: "Members of the Black September terrorist group plot to kill thousands of Americans at the Super Bowl in Miami by using a specially designed dart-gun in a hijacked Goodyear blimp."

The movie was based on Thomas Harris's best-selling novel and filmed at the Orange Bowl before and during Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. An actual Goodyear blimp was used for some of the scenes, while the nose of a blimp was recreated and supported by a crane for the scene in which the blimp enters the stadium.

Other Blimps

While Goodyear's are the most iconic, other companies, including Budweiser, Fuji Film and MetLife, have advertised with their own blimps over the years. MetLife has brought attention to itself since 1987 via the Snoopy One and Snoopy Two blimps, which provide aerial coverage of more than 60 events each year. Tomorrow, MetLife-owned blimps will hover above the Cotton Bowl for the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas, and be in South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame plays host to USC. The Fuji Film blimp was used by the New York Police Department to assist in patrolling Madison Square Garden during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The Smithsonian Needs Your Help Transcribing Sally Ride’s Notebooks

Sally Ride in 1984.
Sally Ride in 1984.
Coffeeandcrumbs, NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride made history when she became the first American woman to travel into space. Now, the Smithsonian Institution is making the history of her incredible decades-long career more accessible to everyone—and they need your help to do it.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives is home to the Sally K. Ride Papers, a collection of 38,640 physical pages (over 23 cubic feet) of material spanning Ride’s professional life as an astronaut, physicist, and educator from the 1970s to 2010s. Those resources have been scanned and used to create an online finding aid—not unlike a table of contents—so researchers can easily navigate through the wealth of information.

To simplify the searching process within that online finding aid, the Smithsonian Institution is asking for volunteers to transcribe documents in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center, a digital hub launched in 2013, where anybody can sign up to type and review historical sources. Three projects from the Sally K. Ride Papers are currently available to transcribe, which include her notes for shuttle training between 1979 and 1981, notes about the Remote Manipulator System Arm (there's one on the International Space Station today), and notes from NASA commissions on which she served. One, for example, was the Rogers Commission, which investigated the causes of the fatal Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

You can find out more about the documents in the projects here, and if you’re interested in joining the forces of “volunpeers,” as the Smithsonian likes to call its transcribers, you can create a new user account here. (All you’ll need is a username and email address.)

Check out more citizen science projects you can participate in at home here.

12 Things You Might Not Know About Passover

iStock
iStock

For practicing Jews, Passover is a time to remember their deliverance from captivity in ancient Egypt. It's one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, and in the days before the first night's seder, families make preparations such as cleaning the home of chametz and planning for a week of meaningful dietary restrictions. Here are 12 facts about Passover that you wouldn't have learned from a yearly viewing of The Ten Commandments.

1. Firstborn sons need to fast for Passover.

matzo
iStock

The festival of Passover (or Pesach) commemorates the story of the Jews' escape from Egypt. The passover in question is when the houses of the observant Israelites in captivity were "passed over" as Egypt's first-born children were killed (although confusingly, in the Torah, the date the 14th of Nisan is referred to as Passover while the week-long celebration is the Festival of Matzot. They've since been combined into one celebration called Passover).

In celebration of the firstborns being saved, it is traditional for them to fast on 14 Nisan. If there are no children, the oldest member of the household fasts. If the firstborn is a daughter? That depends on the tradition of the community.

2. Passover lasts either seven or eight days.

reading the Haggadah at Passover
iStock

The Torah says to celebrate Passover for seven days (the time between the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea), but many Jews outside of Israel celebrate for eight. Traditionally each month of the Jewish calendar was determined by an astronomical observation and could be either 29 or 30 days long. After a new month was determined, messengers spread the word. For Jews who lived too far away for messengers to bring timely news of a new month, it was safest to celebrate for an extra day, so no matter how long the previous month was, the holiday was celebrated.

Eventually the calendar was standardized and the eight-day custom was no longer needed. Today, some Jewish denominations outside of Israel (like Reform Judaism) celebrate the mandated seven days, while many others prefer eight days. Inside Israel it's generally seven.

3. Leavened grains are a no-go at Passover.

Person sweeping the floor
iStock

One of the most important parts of Passover preparations is cleaning the house of chametz, or leavened food. Even the tiniest bit has to go. Because the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry, it's said they didn't have time to leaven their bread. To commemorate that, five grains (traditionally wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats) are banished from the house. Jews can spend weeks ensuring that the house is perfectly clean—and there are even professional chametz cleaning services that say they'll boil toys, break down and reassemble kitchen chairs … and possibly still leave the house dirty. There's a saying in Jewish households: "Dust is not chametz." The goal is to get rid of chametz above all else.

4. Matzo, which is made from wheat, is one of the most important parts of a Passover meal.

baking matzo
iStock

While there are restrictions against leavened products, one of the most important parts of a Passover meal is matzo, which is made from wheat. The difference between matzo and regular bread is that the wheat in matzo cannot come into contact with any water until it's ready to be cooked. And once water and wheat are mixed it has to be baked within 18 minutes (sources differ as to whether the timer stops when it enters or leaves the oven). After 18 minutes, fermentation begins and it is chametz.

But why 18 minutes? Supposedly it's because that's how long it takes to walk between the cities of Migdal Nunaiya and Tiberias in Israel. Over the years, scholars have argued about how long it would actually take to walk between the cities, with some proposing that copying errors reduced the distance from circa 4 miles to 1 and thus reduced the time from 72 minutes to 18. Nowadays, it's felt that even if there was a transcribing error, there's enough tradition to use 18 minutes.

5. Grains get complicated during Passover.

matzo ball soup
iStock

As Jews spread around the world, they often found themselves faced with foods that weren't explicitly mentioned for Passover. Sephardic Jews (generally) feel that only the five expressly mentioned grains are forbidden, while Ashkenazi Jews worry that the dishes made from certain other plants that look similar and are grown in similar conditions as the forbidden grains will risk contamination between the two. So if these ingredients (called kitniyot, or "legumes") were avoided, actual chametz could more easily be avoided (although kitniyot is nowhere near as regulated as chametz).

But recently, some authorities have argued that improved technology and storing methods have rendered the old methods obsolete. It's a current debate in some communities.

6. Some of the best matzo flour is made in Arizona.

field of wheat
iStock

One of the most difficult parts of making matzo is keeping the flour dry before it's ready to be converted into matzo; any water risks converting flour into chametz. So, according to The New York Times, one sect of Hasidic Jews has found the perfect farming conditions to produce their wheat—the arid fields of southwestern Arizona. The group of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn, New York, work with a farm in Yuma, Arizona, to ensure that no unwanted moisture affects the crop, and the resulting kosher wheat is shipped back east to make up to 100,000 pounds of matzo.

7. Pets also get special food during Passover.

cute dog with head tilted
iStock

For Passover, houses must be free of chametz and there can be no benefit derived from it. This includes pet food. In keeping with this, there are Passover-friendly pet foods out there, and some Rabbinical authorities propose switching out your pet's diet for a few days—such as giving dogs straight meat or herbivores a variety of approved vegetables. If a pet must have a specific type of food—or you can't get Passover-friendly pet food—some observant Jews follow the rabbinical authorities who give the option to sell the pet to a gentile for a few days and then get it back after Passover has ended.

8. There are six symbolic Passover foods.

seder plate for Passover
iStock

The focal point of the start of Passover is the Seder plate, and on it are six ceremonial items:

Beitzah—A cooked egg, representing sacrifice (it's also been suggested that while most foods soften when you cook them, eggs get harder, representing the resolve of the Jewish people)

Haroset—a sweet mix of fruits, nuts, and honey/wine that symbolizes the mortar used by Jews during their slavery

Karpas—a green vegetable signifying new life

Maror and hazeret—bitter herbs (often horseradish for maror and something like romaine for hazeret) to represent the bitterness of slavery

Zeroa—a shank bone (or a chicken neck) to remember the Paschal sacrifice.

9. Sometimes an orange is added to the Seder plate.

slice of orange
iStock

In the 1980s, Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel spoke on a panel at Oberlin College. While there, she met some students who told a story of a rabbi who said "There's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate." In response, they started placing a crust on their plates.

Heschel was inspired, but felt that using bread sent the wrong message, writing "it renders everything chametz … [suggesting] that being a lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism." So she proposed putting an orange (originally a tangerine) on the Seder plate to symbolize Jewish gays and lesbians. At some point a story emerged that it was actually to symbolize women in general, but Heschel explained: "A woman's words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"

Other more modern additions include pine cones (symbolizing mass incarceration), an artichoke (to recognize interfaith families), or tomatoes or Fair Trade chocolate (to remember that there's still slavery around the world).

10. Some major companies produce special kosher-for-Passover food and beverages.

ad for kosher Coca-Cola
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC-BY-2.0

Many companies produce special kosher-for-Passover products, from chocolate syrup to cake mixes. But one of the most important is Coca-Cola. In the early 20th century Rabbi Tobias Geffen was serving as an Orthodox Rabbi in Atlanta. Due to his location (Coca-Cola was invented and is headquartered in Atlanta), he was frequently asked if Coca-Cola was kosher. After analyzing the product, he found two problem ingredients—alcohol and glycerin.

The alcohol was a problem because it was grain-derived and thus unacceptable for Passover, a problem that was solved by switching to fermented molasses. The other problem, however, was glycerin. The glycerin was derived from animals, and there was simply no economic way to ensure the animals were kosher. As Roger Horowitz explains in Kosher USA, there's an exemption in the rules for a tiny amount of an unacceptable ingredient—designed to cover mistakes—and Coca-Cola's glycerin content was dramatically below that level. Rabbi Geffen, however, believed that since the glycerin was deliberately added, it didn't qualify for this rule. Soon though, a new source of glycerin from cottonseed oil emerged, and Coca-Cola was approved for Passover.

When Coca-Cola switched to high fructose corn syrup, however, that created a problem for Ashkenazi Jews. As such, today there's a special yellow-capped Coca-Cola that doesn't use HFCS and is certified kosher.

11. Maxwell House coffee holds a special place at Passover.

Maxwell House Haggadahs
Tom Lappin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

But the most influential company is likely Maxwell House. In the 1920s they decided to expand their presence to Jewish families—but there was a problem. Colloquially known as coffee "beans," there was a view that they were legumes, and as such forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews. Soon Maxwell House convinced reluctant coffee drinkers that their product was acceptable and in 1932 the company began publishing the Maxwell House Haggadah (the Haggadah is the telling of the Exodus and how to perform a seder meal). In the years since, Maxwell House estimates that it has published 50 million Haggadahs, which were even the preferred text for the Obama White House Seder.

12. The world's largest Seder happens in a surprising location.

Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
PRAKASH MATHEMA, AFP/Getty Images

Going on for almost 30 years and hosting over 1000 people, the Kathmandu Seder was started in 1989 by the Israeli ambassador to Nepal, who quickly realized that the demand was much higher than he was ready for. The ambassador contacted a rabbi friend who dispatched two rabbinical students to aid the preparations. The seder was a massive success—expecting 90 guests and hoping for 150, they ultimately had 500 guests.

Nowadays, preparations for the seder start months in advance, with 1000 bottles of wine and over 1000 pounds of matzo getting shipped in from the United States and Israel.

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