The History of the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

GORDON BENNETT AND HIS RACES From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen (The Gordon Bennett Races)
by Ulrich Hohmann Sr along with articles by others.

Many of his contemporaries have considered Mister James Gordon Bennett to be a spleeny American. He was born in New York, May 10th 1841 and died 4 days after his 77th Birthday in Beaulieu near Nizza/France. From his father, a Scottish journalist, he inherited the publishing house of the "New York Herald". Being a publisher makes somebody, even today, independent from money, but also requests a permanent struggle for increasing circulation.

Already in 1871, Gordon-Bennett proved his ability for "public relations", by sponsoring the expedition of Stanley, searching (and finding!) Livingstone, who was missing on his search for the source of the Nile. The later sponsorships of Gordon-Bennett therefore rooted more in his interest for business than in his interest for sports. The winners of ”his” competitions had to tell their adventures only to the reporters of the "New York Herald" as an exclusive story.

Today, we connect his name with the gas-ballooning. We don’t know, if he ever flew in a balloon. Already before 1900, he had donated 10.000 Francs to the Automobile Club de France as price-money for a motor car race, and he developed the rules himself. This first race then took place on June 14th 1900 from Paris to Lyon. In 1905 he offered to the still young Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) the rules, a one time 25.000 Franc donation and 12.500 Francs for each of the following two years "for the most courageous and experienced pilots of the world struggling for the Grand Prix of the Air".

The competition rules were (and are still today) quite simple: Winner is the nation of the team that covers the maximum distance. Every nation may enter three balloon as maximum and is obliged to host the race in the following year, if they win. If one nation wins this challenge-cup in three following years, the cup finally comes to its possession and this nation has to sponsor a new cup, if the race should continue. This was all laid down in the 23 chapters of the rules, so the COUPE AERONAUTIQUE "Gordon Bennett" was on its way and the spark was ignited for the most fascinating and adventurous competition in ballooning.