Initiated in 1972, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta started as a 50th birthday celebration for radio station 770 KOB. It has since evolved into a nine-day event with over 500 balloons each year and is recognized as the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. At the time, the biggest gathering of hot air balloons had been 19 balloons in England. The first Albuquerque fiesta in April involved 13 balloons after several pilots cancelled due to poor weather conditions.
Located in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall, the first fiesta drew 20,000 spectators. Balloonists from Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas participated. There was a Roadrunner-Coyote Balloon Race that continues into 2015, which involves one balloon serving as the cartoon character Roadrunner and the others being Coyote. The winner is the pilot who lands his balloon closest to Roadrunner.
The following year, the event occurred in April and rose to international fame. A balloon rally took place to confirm Albuquerque as the host city. The festival moved permanently to October given the far more ideal flying conditions.
A record number of 1,019 balloons showed up for the fiesta in the year 2000, prompting organizers to limit the number of participants to 750 in 2001. Citing city growth and limited landing zones, organizers lowered the number of balloons permitted to 600 in 2009.