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U.S. Balloon History
Back in 1980, Michael Isaacs and Richard Blacksberg were walking through
a mall in Brooklyn, New York, when they saw silver foil balloons for the
first time. They were being sold out of a circus cart at $2.00 each, along
with twisting balloons. At the time, Michael and Richard were schoolteachers
with young families.
Michael remembers thinking, “Who would spend $2.00 for a silver
balloon?” and then asking if he could buy the cart.
While the cart was for sale, a lease for the space at the mall wasn’t
available, so it wasn’t until a few months later, when another mall
was being built nearby that Michael and Richard started their weekend
and holiday business of selling foil balloons. They had a cart made. It
was white formica, with a clown head above the helium tank.
Foil balloons were not self-sealing back then. Curling irons were used
to seal them and they were tied with cord wrapped around many times to
help keep the helium in. The defect rate was 25-30%. They sold for $2.50.
People stood on line to buy them. When the mall would close, they’d
slip money under the door, and the security guards would open the doors
so they could buy balloons.
In January, 1981, Michael and Richard placed ads in New York Magazine,
The Village Voice, and other papers, that an inflated red/silver heart
balloon, in a nondescript box, could be sent anywhere in the U.S., for
$14.00, including delivery. For another $2.50, you could have your Valentine’s
Day message on it, which would be written on the silver side with a marker.
They filled so many UPS trucks that the driver resigned. He was a young
guy, too! By then it was obvious, at least to Michael and Richard, that
foil balloons would become the social expression vehicle. In those days,
card shops and florists thought balloons were tacky, so balloons were
mainly sold at carnivals and flea markets.
U.S. Balloon’s first location was in Richard’s basement.
Its first phone number was Michael’s home. The company was going
to be called Balloons R Us. But, this was around the time that Bags R
Us had its trademark revoked, and all R Us variations came under the Toys
R Us trademark. So, after trying out several rearrangements of the letters,
Balloons R Us became U.S. Balloon.