Oct 18, 2017
Centennial Celebration for Pioneer
Zeke Jennings

Pioneer Balloon Company turns 100 years old in 2017

Pioneer Balloon Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year right where it’s always been – at the forefront of the industry.

Pioneer’s success stems from innovation, customer service and leadership. That starts at the top with longtime owners Ted and Betty Vlamis, who bought the company Aug. 27, 1979.

“It’s a very exciting time for us,” Ted Vlamis said. “We’re building on a 100-year heritage of concentration on taking care of our customers.

“It’s a real blessing.”

Pioneer Rubber Company was founded in 1917 in Willard, Ohio. Its focus wasn’t balloons, of course, but rubber gloves for medical use and household cleaning. By the mid-1930s, Pioneer was making balloons and officially registered the name Qualatex in 1935. With the exception of a brief hiatus during World War II because of a lack of crude rubber, its been producing balloons ever since.

Pioneer was purchased by Sherwood Medical Industries in 1971. By the end of the decade the balloon operation had drawn the attention of Wichita, Kansas businessman Ted A. Vlamis.

Vlamis, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and master’s from the University of Chicago, spent the 1960s and 1970s as an executive for food producing companies, including General Mills and Rice Frys. His wife, Betty, was no stranger to business either, as she worked with Ted’s companies, often in a consumer relationships and marketing research capacity.

In a Willard Times article documenting the purchase of Pioneer, Vlamis said marketing was where he and Betty focus their energies, citing untapped markets large chain stores, such as K-Mart, and supermarkets.

Betty Vlamis said customer service has remained the foundation of everything they do and that includes offering education, events and networking, such as the Qualatex Balloon Network, Certified Balloon Artist program – both of which were established in 1993, and the bi-annual World Balloon Convention, which was first held in 2010.

“We’ve really built the company on education and educating our customers,” Betty Vlamis said. “We feel if we can help them a little bit, they’ll be successful and with all of their success, then we’re successful.”

Pioneer’s world headquarters in Wichita, and has production facilities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K., Mexico and Brazil. The company is celebrating its 100th anniversary with various events throughout the year.

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