The son of Greek immigrants, Ballas was raised in Louisiana. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II (he also served in the Korean War), he managed Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studios, and helped other managers with troubleshooting. “I found out it was a big business,” he said years later. “A helluva lot more than just waltzing around the floor.” In the 1960s, he ran Dance City U.S.A., a 43,000-square-foot dance hall in Houston, which he sold in 1970. In 1971 Ballas was going through a car wash, and the rotating brushes gave him an idea. He went home and poked holes in a tin can, threaded it with wire and fishing line, and mounted it on an edge trimmer. His idea: to cut down weeds in his yard more easily with the spinning filaments. He called it the “Weed Eater”, and it worked. He refined the idea, and then shopped it around to various companies. “He was laughed at by major corporations, who told him to take his idea and take a hike,” said his son, Corky. Rather than give up, Ballas created his own company to make and market the Weed Eater. In the first year, sales were $570,000. By 1976, sales were $41 million. In 1977, Ballas sold the company to Emerson Electric Co. for a confidential figure. “It has remained confidential all these years,” Corky said, “but it was a happy sum.” — certainly many tens of millions. Ballas died June 25 in Houston. He was 85.
From This is True for 3 July 2011