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Things that are Lighter than Air

Fred Flintstone balloon, as seen in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Q: All the helium used to inflate the giant balloons used in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City comes from the world’s second largest helium processing plant, which happens to be located in a small central Kansas town.  What’s the name of this town?
A: Otis

It takes about 300,000 cubic feet of helium to inflate all the balloons used in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.  That’s a lot of helium!  And all that helium is processed at the Linde (Lindy) helium plant in the tiny central Kansas town of Otis.  This town of about 300 people is located in Rush County.  In 1943, the Otis Helium Plant was constructed to extract helium from natural gas. One of the largest of its kind, the plant was originally constructed by the U.S. government.  In 1962, the privately owned Kansas Refined Helium plant began operations in Otis, which developed liquefied helium.  The plant is now owned and operated by Linde, a global company headquartered in Germany.  

Of course, helium has a long history in Kansas.  While scientists had known about helium’s existence for a long time, they didn’t think anything but trace amounts of the gas existed on Earth. That changed in 1903, when a newly drilled natural gas well in Dexter, Kansas was found to contain a nonflammable gas. Researchers at the University of Kansas later determined that the “Dexter gas” contained helium.  At the time, helium had few practical applications.  But since then, many other uses have been found for this colorless, odorless, tasteless and inert gas - including its use in balloons, like those used in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!


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