Man Who Released 1.5M Balloons Explains How He Did It

By Kat Hannaford on at

Our most popular story this week revolves around one day in Cleveland, way back 1986 -- the day Tom Holowach, the man behind Balloonfest '86, released 1.5 million balloons into the sky. Given you all had so many questions for him (such as how he could live with the environmental waste), he popped by to say the following:

"I was the Project Manager for this event. I worked on it for 6 months and lived in Cleveland for a month preparing for it. We had to design a structure this filled a city square and could stand up to 90 MPH winds, which was building code. The one-piece net was fabricated by the exact company I found in So Cal who built the cargo nets for the Space Shuttle. Kids in schools "sold" balloon sponsorships at 2 for a dollar that went to United Way. The goal was 2 million but we stopped at 1.4 + million."

"We had to design the logistics of filling hundreds of balloons that made Olympic rings and then cheerleaders moved them to spell "Welcome"... and then let them go. After that, I worked on all Treb's large events, including the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland in 1985. We had to design a way to blow up a million balloons, put them in bags of 1000, and then carry them out to the street. In Cleveland, they wanted to release them from one spot in front of Terminal Tower. I designed the city-square block "bin", got it redesigned to meet Cleveland building code for any structure, and designed and ordered the fabrication of a net that was a city block square."

"At the time, nobody had been told about the prospect of a helium shortage. We know the US Govt. controlled the supply for dirigible inflation (seriously), but know one really understood that we had reached "peak helium." I have used some of my precious moments on Earth to make people happy and go Wow. That's why I went to work for Disneyland. They are once-in-a-lifetime events, never seen before or since. The closest you can get now is at a theme park. back in the 80's corporations were using big events as markerting stunts. I was very good at the logistics of the seemingly impossible. In retrospect, it's a DUH, but at the time, it's a huge rush."