The beautiful Napa Valley, California is one of the most popular locations for hot air
balloon travel in the entire world. The balmy weather, consistent winds, and gorgeous
rolling terrain all combine to make for a fun and exciting balloon ride. However, it was
not always such smooth sailing for Napa balloon rides. The industry is extraordinarily
safe and well maintained today, but the first balloon ride in the Napa Valley did not go
The story of the first of all Napa balloon rides comes to us from the Napa Reporter, a
weekly newspaper that ran in Napa City from 1872 to 1874. Those tumultuous years
saw many historic events, but one of the most amusing of them was the story of the first
hot air balloon in the Napa Valley. It belonged to a circus that came to Napa City on
June 4th, 1873. Along with its other attractions the circus owned a hot air balloon and a
man brave enough to climb into it.
With the characteristic hometown emphasis of newspapers of that era, the Reporter
does not tell us the name of the man who flew the balloon or the circus that brought him
there. They do, however, tell us the names of the men who owned the properties that
he crashed into.
The flight began well enough, since it was a warm and sunny day. The pilot brought the
balloon up and navigated it over the schoolhouse without difficulty. From there things
took a turn for the worse. The man lost control of his balloon and crashed it into the side
of Mr. Richman’s barn. It caromed away from the barn and entangled itself in the top of
a tree in Mr. Pierson’s yard. Mr. Pierson, a glove maker, was there to watch the unlucky
pilot extricate himself from the tangled mess and lower himself to the ground.
Unfortunately, as he attempted to climb down the bark peeled away from the tree,
bringing him back to earth more quickly than he might have intended. The newspaper
reports that he was scratched and bruised but there were no serious injury.
Freed of the pilot’s weight, the balloon lifted itself back out of Mr. Pierson’s tree. It then
ascended, unpiloted, to a height of about three hundred feet. It hovered there
motionless for a minute, to the astonishment of all spectators, then fell into Mr. McKay’s
History does not record the fate of the balloon or the circus, but a quick look at all of the
hot air balloons in the skies above the Napa Valley today shows that their daring
venture pioneered the way to the amazing and safe Napa balloon rides that we enjoy