From a small gathering of 13 balloons in 1972, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has grown to become the largest balloon event in the world. Held each year during the first week in October, the Balloon Fiesta now attracts almost 600 balloons and 1000 pilots.
The first gathering of 13 balloons in 1972 was held in the parking lot of Coronado Center Mall in Albuquerque. The following year, 13 countries took part in the "First World Hot Air Balloon Championship", the world's largest ballooning event, held at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. By 1978 Albuquerque was playing host to 273 entries. The number of balloons steadily increased, with 600 in 1988 and 903 balloons in 1999. The organizers of the Balloon Fiesta registered over 1000 balloons in the year 2000.
In 1972 there were about 10,000 guests that viewed the first Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds of thousands of guest visit Balloon Fiesta each year, and hundreds of thousands more fans watch the balloons from outlying areas and on TV. In order to accommodate the increases in balloons and guests, the Balloon Fiesta’s home field has grown from a corner in a mall parking lot, to its present home, a permanent site which is more than 350 acres.
The Balloon Fiesta has not only grown in numbers of balloons and guests, but in the number of unique events as well. In addition to the spectacular Mass Ascensions, the Balloon Fiesta has added the annual Balloon Glow, the Night Magic Glow™, and the Special Shape Rodeo™. These additions have grown to become guest favorites. In order to preserve the magic of these spectacular events, it is estimated that more than 25 million still photographs are taken of the Balloon Fiesta, repeatedly earning it the title “the world’s most photographed event.”
Gas balloons became part of the Balloon Fiesta in 1981. In 1993, and again in 1999, AIBF hosted the annual Coupe de Gordon Bennett, the world's oldest and most prestigious gas balloon race. In 1994, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta hosted the 8th World Gas Balloon Championship and in 1995, Balloon Fiesta launched America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, a distance race that broke distance records, dating back to 1912.
The genesis of the 1st balloon Fiesta occurred while planning the KOB 50th Anniversary party the following spring, Susan Johnson, then promotional director for the station, was looking for a centerpiece of her own to celebrate this important birthday for the station. She found Sid Cutter flying the "club" balloon which had been purchased by the founders of the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (now the largest local balloon club in the world). The relationship between KOB and Sid Cutter was cemented and the idea of a balloon race began to take shape.
With very little time, but an enormous wealth of enthusiasm, Sid Cutter, Don and Mike Draper and Tom Rutherford of KOB, set about putting together the largest balloon race in the world at that time, and invited 21 balloons to attend the event.
Last minute cancellations and a miserable storm in the Midwest limited the participants to 13 balloons, but each and every one was given red carpet treatment and put on a show for some 10,000-20,000 spectators that Albuquerque would never forget. The pilots came from Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas and they left with the impression that Albuquerque was a wonderful place to fly and that it had about the most hospitable bunch of people you'd ever want to find.
To conduct the world’s premier ballooning event while renewing friendships and promoting camaraderie among all participants and promoting the sport of ballooning, the City of Albuquerque and the State of New Mexico, nationally and internationally.”