In 1925, Mr. S. Claus was looking for a modern alternative to his old-fashioned reindeer-powered sleigh. Having once shown an interest in lighter-than-air flight in the form of hot-air balloons, Santa was favorably inclined when Goodyear came up with a solution — toy delivery via airship, in this case, Pilgrim I, renamed the Santa Claus Express for the occasion. In the photograph shown here, Pilgrim’s pilot Carl Wollam holds the gondola door for Santa (as portrayed by Goodyear employee Jack Yolton). Curiously, they seem to be unconcerned about the effect of drag from the presents festooning the gondola, but as Pilgrim’s top speed was only about 40 MPH, it probably didn’t make much of a difference. Here are some more photographs of Goodyear’s Santa Claus Express, 1925-1927, from the University of Akron’s library. By the way, the Pilgrim gondola is on display at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia — we might consider loaning it out to qualified Jolly Old Elves around this time of year…
The Santa Claus Express was re-instituted by Goodyear last year to support the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program. Santa, portrayed in the photo shown above by Spirit of Goodyear mechanic Ron Heaps, and Spirit pilot Gerald Hissem re-enact the original Santa Claus Express photograph.
The staff and volunteers of the National Air and Space Museum hope that all of our readers, visitors and friends have a fine holiday season; and that whatever method of aerial transport Santa chooses, that you’ll get a visit from him on Christmas Eve.
Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division