James Gordon Bennett jr.

James Gordon Bennett was seen by many of his contemporaries as an American renowned for having crazy ideas. Gordon Bennett was born in New York on 10th May 1841 and died 4 days after his 77th birthday in Beaulieu, near Nice. He inherited the “New York Times” newspaper from his Scottish father. This gave him financial independence but also demanded continuous attention in order to raise circulation figures. As early as 1871 he proved his flair for “public relations” by financing Stanley’s expedition to discover the source of the Nile and to find the missing Doctor Livingstone. Gordon Bennett’s subsequent patronages had more to do with his massive business interests than an interest in sport. The winners of his competitions were always obliged to give exclusives to the New York Times reporters!

Today his name is irrevocably linked to gas ballooning but it’s not known if he ever himself flew in a balloon. Even before the year 1900 he donated 10’000 Francs prize money to the “Automobilclub de France” (the Automobile Club of France), for a car race, the rules of which he wrote himself. In 1905 he donated 25’000 Francs plus 12’500 Francs for each of the following 2 years for the most daring pilots competing for the greatest aviation trophy of all time. Again, Gordon Bennett wrote the rules for the competition, which were delivered along with the prize money.

The rules of the competition were (and still are) relatively simple. The winner is the nation whose team flies furthest. Each nation may enter a maximum of 3 balloons. The winning nation must then stage the event in the following years. If the trophy is won three times in succession by the same nation then the trophy remains forever the permanent possession of the winning nation. So that the race can continue, those winners must then also supply a new trophy!

In 1906 all was ready, and so began the history of the Gordon Bennett “Coupe Aéronautique”, and with it the most fascinating and adventurous ballooning competition of all!