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BALLAS, GEORGE CHARLES, SR.

BALLAS, GEORGE CHARLES, SR. (1925–2011). George Charles Ballas, Sr., dance instructor, entrepreneur, and inventor of the Weed Eater, was born in Ruston, Louisiana, on June 28, 1925. He was the son of Charles and Maria (Lymnaos) Ballas. His parents were Greek immigrants who ran a restaurant. Ballas attended Rayville High School in Rayville, Louisiana, but at the age of seventeen, in 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served in both World War II and the Korean War. 

After his service, Ballas married Maria Louisa Marulanda in 1952. His wife, a member of one of the founding families of Laredo, Texas, was an established flamenco dancer and had starred in the film Rio Grande (1949). Reportedly, the two met when Marulanda, a dance instructor, taught Ballas the tango. The couple danced professionally and in the mid-1950s moved to Houston, where Ballas worked as a dance instructor at both the Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire franchises before opening his own studio, Dance City USA. His Houston studio employed 120 teachers and covered 43,000 square feet by the time he sold it in 1970. 

Ballas, a perfectionist regarding his lawn care, thought of the Weed Eater while he was going through an automatic car wash. Imitating the way the car wash bristles operated, Ballas attached wires to an old popcorn can and then attached that to an edger. The invention, he dubbed the “Weed Eater,” worked, and he founded the Weed Eater Corporation in 1971. He refined his design by using fishing line with a lightweight motor to effectively cut and edge in his yard. After numerous meetings with potential investors, however, Ballas failed to attract any backers to help market the product. Failing to obtain loans, Ballas marketed the invention himself by purchasing local television ads. Eventually, he also invested in national promotion. He saw sales go from $570,000 in 1972 to more than $40,000,000 in 1976. Ballas sold the Weed Eater to Emerson Electric in 1977 for “a small fortune” according to his daughter Winkie Jamal, although the official amount was never disclosed. Ballas, known as the “Weed King,” designed other inventions, including smaller motors for the Weed Eater, a reclining typewriter table, and an early type of portable phone. 

Ballas had three daughters and two sons. His son Corky Ballas became a competitive ballroom dancer and won several Latin dance championship titles, and a grandson, Mark Ballas, was a regular performer on the television program Dancing with the Stars. George Charles Ballas, Sr., died of natural causes on June 25, 2011, in Houston, Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

“George Ballas—Famous Inventor,” Edubilla.com (http://www.edubilla.com/inventor/george-ballas/), accessed October 6, 2016. Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2011. New York Times, July 2, 2011. “Today: How George Ballas made a fortune by inventing the Weed Eater,” Kazan Today (http://www.kazantoday.com/WeeklyArticles/george-ballas.html), accessed October 6, 2016.  (Washington Post, July 3, 2011. 

Joseph Hancock

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Handbook of Texas Online, Joseph Hancock, "Ballas, George Charles, Sr.," accessed November 19, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbala.

Uploaded on November 22, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.