The Great Female Balloon Race of 1909 – Ms. Miller defeats Ms. Shaffer

Oakland, California – October 24, 1909 – Ms. Margaret Miller and Ms. Genevieve Schaffer competed for the third time today in an aerial race. It will be remember that Ms. Miller became the first woman to win the Portola Cup, the prize awarded to the balloonist who travelled the farthest from their starting point; and that Ms. Shaffer also has a Portola Cup win to her credit. The two ladies are friendly rivals; Ms. Shaffer’s balloon, Queen of the Pacific, represents San Francisco, and Ms. Miller ascends in The City of Oakland.

Ms. Shaffer, attired in a white veil and a street gown, ascended first. In between snaps of her ever present chewing gum, Ms. Shaffer told reporters, “I am not afraid at all…I have been looking forward to the trip with much pleasure for weeks.” At her signal, her assistant and the builder of the balloon, Baldwin, cut loose the ballast and Ms. Shaffer was away.

With a white handkerchief, Ms. Miller waved a friendly farewell to her rival before climbing aboard The City of Oakland. Ms. Miller too was attired in a simple street dress, beautifully set off by a rose colored veil. Miler is a prominent Oakland society girl, recently returned from New York City where she made a name for herself as a Spanish dancer. Her father, James Miller, well known capitalist and president of the Oakland pottery works, stood by and took many a wager in support of his daughter.

Both aeronauts seemed to find it difficult to discover an air current to carry them forward.  Queen of the Pacific’s captainess preferred to keep her balloon low in altitude in an attempt to discover a sufficient wind. Very slowly Ms. Shaffer’s balloon drifted towards the Bay, and as no life preservers were carried aboard, it was decided to set the Queen of the Pacific down on the Oakland side rather than risk landing in the waters of the Bay. Accordingly, it touched down at Adeline and Fifty-Eighth Street.

Miller adopted a different tactic, ascending as high as 9000 feet, and as a low as 100 feet off the ground in an attempt to find a wind, and risked the waters of San Francisco Bay. When close to the San Francisco shore, a strong wind did come up, directly in the face of Miller, and The City of Oakland was sent backwards towards her namesake city. Coming ashore and landing at the Key Route pier, Ms. Miller had gone the greater distance, and was named the winner.

“I enjoyed every minute of it. I was not nervous and was not afraid at any time,” said Miller. “It is the greatest sport of all to sail in the air.” Miller will be the guest of honor at a sumptuous feast in her honor at a local café.

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