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 Question that Baffled Britain's High Court: Are Pringles Chips?

iStock/eskaylim
iStock/eskaylim

Are Pringles potato chips? From 2007 to 2009, that question plagued judges at three different levels of the British judiciary, leading to a series of head-scratchingly comical legal proceedings. The stakes, however, were nothing but serious: The ruling put hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.

The question revolved around Britain’s value-added tax, or VAT. According to the 1994 VAT Act, any product that is “wholly, or substantially wholly, made from the potato” was subject to a 17.5 percent tax. In 2007, Britain’s VAT and Duties Tribunal determined that Pringles fell under the tax’s umbrella—and demanded the chipman payeth.

Procter & Gamble, who owned Pringles at the time, vehemently disagreed. They argued that Pringles were only 42 percent potato flour, with the rest mostly a slurry of wheat starch, corn and rice flour, and vegetable oil. The snack food, they said, could not be classified as a potato chip because, unlike a real potato chip, its overall contents and shape were “not found in nature.”

In addition to being unappetizing, this argument was a marked shift from the company's original position. When the snack first hit shelves in the mid-1960s, Pringles were proudly marketed as “potato chips.” (More specifically, as newfangled potato chips.) They did this despite reported complaints from competing chip-makers, who argued that the snack food—which is cooked from a thin, mashed potato-like dough—should be classified differently.

But now that millions of dollars were on the line, Procter & Gamble’s lawyers wholeheartedly embraced Pringles's unique place as a “not-really-a-chip” chip. The VAT and Duties Tribunal, however, didn’t buy it. In a decision that sounds more like a Zen kōan, the tax masters argued that Pringles were chips because they were “made from potato flour in the sense that one cannot say that it is not made from potato flour.”

To that, the British High Court of Justice basically replied: Wow, that's confusing! Now, excuse us, we would like to top it.

The following year, the High Court stepped in and reversed the Tribunal's decision. First, the Court argued that Pringles were more akin to a cake or bread than a chip. (Who, of course, can forget their first birthday Pringle?) Furthermore, the Court declared that a Pringle—which we should emphasize is, in fact, mostly made from potatoes—was not “made from the potato." Their reasoning invoked Greek metaphysics, claiming that Pringles did not possess the required amount of (and this is their word) “potatoness.”

The controversy didn’t end there. In 2009, the case moved up another judicial wrung, this time to Britain’s Supreme Court of Judicature. The lower court's metaphysical arguments about "potatoness" were enough to make Aristotle's brain hurt, the justices moaned. They criticized the previous ruling for its “overelaborate, almost mind-numbing legal analysis” and dubbed the topic at hand a “short practical question calling for a short practical answer.”

Procter & Gamble’s lawyers bore down anyway. They claimed that a product made from “a number of significant ingredients ... cannot be said to be ‘made from’ one of them.” Lord Justice Jacob called this argument hogwash. If that were true, he argued, then “a marmalade made using both oranges and grapefruit would be made of neither—a nonsense conclusion."

After working itself in and out of semantic pretzels, the Court said the easiest solution to Chipgate was to appeal to a hypothetical child: If you asked an 8-year-old to explain what a Pringle was, what would he or she say?

The question of a Pringle’s identity, the Court argued, “would probably be answered in a more relevant and sensible way by a child consumer than by a food scientist or a culinary pedant.”

In other words, a chip is a chip is a chip—Pringles among them. With that, Procter & Gamble had to pay $160 million in taxes.

Though common sense prevailed, it doesn’t always end that way: Around the time of the great Pringle debate, the state of Oklahoma was busy confidently declaring watermelon a vegetable.

8 Facts About Niccolò Machiavelli

iStock/dcerbino
iStock/dcerbino

Niccolò Machiavelli is arguably the most influential political thinker from the Italian Renaissance. Following the publication of his political theory masterwork The Prince in 1932, his name became synonymous with ruthless political machinations. But was this Florentine philosopher really that bad?

1. HE HAD A FRONT-ROW SEAT TO RENAISSANCE POWER STRUGGLES.

Machiavelli was born in 1469 in the independent Republic of Florence. Long before he became known as the first modern political theorist (not to mention an inspiration for House of Cards), Machiavelli worked as a diplomat in the service of the Florentine government. In 1498, at only 29 years old, he was appointed as the head of the Second Chancery, which put him in control of the city's foreign relations. His number-one concern was the potential return of the Medici family—the most infamous power brokers in Renaissance Italy—who had been ousted from Florence in 1494. Machiavelli oversaw the recruitment and training of an official militia to keep them at bay, but his army was no match for the Medici, who were supported by Rome's papal militia. When the Medici retook Florence in 1512, their first order of business was to fire—and, just for the heck of it, torture—Machiavelli.

2. HE WROTE THE PRINCE TO REGAIN LOST STATUS.

As a diplomat and a scholar in an age of constant warfare, Machiavelli observed and absorbed the rules of the political game. After he lost his job as a diplomat (and even served a short time in jail), he turned to scholarship, poring over the Latin texts of ancient Roman political philosophers for inspiration. By the end of 1513, he had completed the first version of what would become his masterwork: The Prince, a handbook for the power-hungry. The book offered tips to rising politicians for seizing power, and advice to incumbent princes for keeping it.

Ironically, Machiavelli dedicated the book to the Medici, hoping it would bring him back into their good graces. It remains unclear whether it was ever read by its intended audience, and Machiavelli never got to see The Prince go viral. It was published in 1532, five years after its author's death.

3. HE COMPARED THE NEED FOR LOVE TO THE VALUE OF FEAR.

One of The Prince’s primary lessons was that leaders must always try to strike a balance between seeking the love of their subordinates and inspiring fear. If a leader is too soft or kind, the people may become unruly; too cruel, and they might rebel. Machiavelli had a clear preference. "Since love and fear can hardly exist together,” he wrote, “if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved."

4. THE PRINCE’S RUTHLESSNESS MADE IT NOTORIOUS.

Machiavelli’s political thesis became notorious because it focused almost entirely on helping rulers get what they want at whatever cost—in other words, the end always justified the means. Other political thinkers, while acknowledging Machiavelli’s brilliance, were appalled by his mercenary take on statesmanship. In the 18th century, French essayist Denis Diderot described Machiavelli's work as "abhorrent" and summed up The Prince as "the art of tyranny." Friedrich Schiller, a proponent of liberal democracy, referred to The Prince as an unwitting satire of the kind of monarchical rule it supposedly espouses (“a terrible satire against princes”). David Hume, the Scottish polymath and inveterate skeptic, called Machiavelli "a great genius" whose reasoning is "extremely defective.” Wrote Hume, "There scarcely is any maxim in his Prince which subsequent experience has not entirely refuted.”

But 20th-century British philosopher Bertrand Russell disagreed, saying that Machiavelli was merely being honest on a subject that most preferred with a good sugarcoating. “Much of the conventional obloquy that attaches itself to his name, is due to the indignation of hypocrites,” Russell wrote [PDF/a>], “who hate the frank avowal of evil-doing.”

5. SHAKESPEARE CALLED VILLAINS “MACHIAVELS.”

Machiavelli’s notoriety spread so quickly that by the 16th century his name had found its way into the English language as an epithet for crookedness. In Elizabethan theatre, it came to denote a dramatic type: An incorrigible schemer driven by greed and unbridled ambition. In the prologue for The Jew of Malta, playwright Christopher Marlowe introduces his villain as “a sound Machiavill.” Even William Shakespeare used the term as a derogatory shorthand. “Am I politic? Am I subtle? Am I a Machiavel?” one character in The Merry Wives of Windsor asks rhetorically, before adding an indignant, “No!”

6. THE PRINCE WAS BANNED BY THE POPE.

When Machiavelli was out of a job, he did what most Renaissance thinkers did: He found a patron. Pope Clement VII, a Medici who had been elected in 1523, was happy to support the scholar. The pope even commissioned one of Machiavelli’s longest works, the Florentine Histories, which Machiavelli presented in 1526. But after the posthumous publication of The Prince in 1532, the papacy’s attitude toward Machiavelli’s work chilled. When Pope Paul VI established Rome's first Index of Forbidden Books in 1557, he made sure to include The Prince for its promulgation of dishonesty and dirty politics. (Machiavelli’s passion for classical writers and their pagan culture didn’t appeal to Pope Paul, either [PDF].)

7. HE COLLABORATED WITH LEONARDO DA VINCI.

In 1503, when Machiavelli was struggling to fortify Florence against its enemies, he turned to the ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.

According to a 1939 biography of Leonardo, the two "seem to have become intimate" when they met in Florence. Machiavelli used his power to procure commissions for Leonardo and even appointed him Florence's military engineer between 1502 and 1503. Machiavelli was hoping to harness Leonardo’s ingenuity to capture Pisa, a fledgling city-state which Florentine leaders had been eager to subdue for decades. As expected, Leonardo came up with a revolutionary plan. He contrived a system of dams that would block off one of Pisa’s main waterways, which could have brought Pisa to the brink of a drought and given Machiavelli all the leverage he could have asked for. But the plan failed. The dam system ended up interrupting Florence's own agriculture, and so the government terminated the project. Leonardo left his post after only eight months.

Some scholars believe that the encounter with Leonardo left a deep mark on Machiavelli’s political thinking. They point to Machiavelli’s repeated emphasis on the power of technological innovation to decide a war, a view which they believe Leonardo had inspired. Machiavelli’s writing is rife with idiosyncratic expressions that seem to have almost been lifted from Leonardo's notebooks.

8. HE ACTUALLY BELIEVED IN A JUST GOVERNMENT.

Scholar Erica Benner argues that, despite his reputation, Machiavelli wasn’t amoral. Although The Prince openly encouraged politicians to take and offer bribes, cheat, threaten, and even kill if necessary, Machiavelli knew that even rulers had to obey some sense of justice, Benner wrote in The Guardian. He recognized that the race for power comes with very few scruples, but he also recognized that without respect for justice, society falls into chaos.

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