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Noteworthy Alumni in the Fields of Business and Ballooning: Maxie Anderson ’52

Anderson attended MMA for 10 years. His Academy records indicate he was an exemplary cadet who excelled in academics, athletics and military training — although Anderson recalled himself being more of a prankster than a model student. In a 1979 interview with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Anderson recalls driving his secretly purchased ’34 Plymouth (cars were forbidden for cadets) with his friends in their free time and participating in one of the largest water fights on campus.

Still, Anderson credited MMA for contributing to his success. “I never forget the mental or physical discipline that I learned here,” Anderson said in the interview. “As you strive for success, that success is but the intelligent application of failure.” 

After graduating from MMA in 1952, Anderson pursued a degree in industrial engineering from the University of North Dakota. While in college, he prospected for uranium inside the Arctic Circle and made million-dollar deals on behalf of his father, who was involved in the construction of a uranium pipeline. By the time he was 20 years old, Anderson and his father closed a deal that gave them control of a rich uranium mine that would eventually become the foundation of Ranchers Exploration and Development Corp.

After earning his degree, Anderson was appointed to the Board of Ranchers Exploration, and in only six short years, he was promoted to chief executive officer of the company. Under his guidance, Anderson grew Ranchers Exploration from a three-employee business that grossed approximately $1 million annually from primarily copper-related investments to one of the most forward-thinking mining businesses in the industry with more than 500 employees. It now grosses over $50 million annually with large-scale investments in uranium, gold, silver and more.

The growth of Ranchers Exploration was in part due to Anderson’s commercial development of copper dump leaching, which uses the solvent extraction and electrowinning of cathode copper. This method revolutionized the mining industry and was adopted around the world. 

After this discovery, Ranchers Exploration mined with unprecedented speeds and high stripping ratios. In a true Anderson-style investment, the company detonated the largest non-nuclear blast of the time at the Old Reliable Mine in Arizona, which produced substantial revenues for the company.

In addition to being an incredible businessman, Anderson was a considerate employer. He provided for his employees by instilling profit-sharing programs and developing employee empowerment activities. In a 1984 Rancher Exploration final report, the company mentioned it was most appreciative of Anderson’s team approach to problem-solving — always finding the right people to work on a problem, then giving them the full support and authority to solve it, which resulted in a dedicated staff with virtually no turnover.

But in many circles, Anderson is most well-known for his adventures as a balloonist. An avid Jules Verne fan, Anderson lied about his age so he could earn his pilot license at the young age of 15.

Accompanied by various co-pilots, Anderson traveled over 15,000 miles and logged more than 500 hours aboard gas balloons and 600 hours in hot air balloons.

In 1978, Anderson and his co-pilots became the first balloon team to cross the Atlantic Ocean. His balloon took off in Presque Isle, Maine, and landed in Misery, France — an incredible 3,107 miles away. This trip is memorialized at the Maxie Anderson-Ben Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, which serves as a unique repository for artifacts that mark the first successful attempts at aviation. The museum’s 100-foot aluminum dome is a replica of Anderson’s Double Eagle II, the balloon he flew across the Atlantic.

The museum also features meaningful exhibits of Anderson’s other adventures, one of which he took in 1980. In this record-breaking exploit, Anderson and his son became the first father-son balloon team to cross North America and the first balloon team to make a nonstop transcontinental balloon flight, piloting 3,314 miles from San Francisco to Quebec, Canada.

An inspiration to many, Anderson died in 1983 in a landing accident in West Germany as a participant in the Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, a race he won in 1979. “Some people like to climb mountains,” he once said. “My mountains are in the air.”

In addition to his dedicatory at the Maxie Anderson-Ben Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, Anderson was memorialized by Rancher’s Exploration, which crafted a limited-edition medallion inscribed with his most memorable flights. He was also inducted into the United States Ballooning Hall of Fame in 2011.