Lead Balloon – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for an expression describing the failure of a project after it receives no support? You could say that it went down like a “lead balloon.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “lead balloon” describes a project, idea, or process that was a total failure due to a lack of support.

The phrase has two versions. It appears as “go over like a lead balloon” in America. People in the UK will phrase it as “go down like a lead balloon.” Both sayings have the same meaning, referring to a failed attempt that received no backing from others.

Example Usage

“Well, that idea turned out to be a lead balloon. I showed up on Saturday expecting a crowd, and no one showed up.”

“The project is a lead balloon, and it’s dead in the water. We put it out to market, and it failed to create the adoption we expected.”

“You could say that the program was a lead balloon. We had high hopes for it at launch, but things didn’t pan out as expected.”

“It’s time to pull the plug on this lead balloon. It’s a never-ending money pit, and we will never get it profitable.”

“So, you thought you would break into the store and steal the safe while the power was out. You forgot about the backup battery for the alarm system. Looks like your plan was a lead balloon.”

“The government’s idea to launch digital IDs turned out to be a lead balloon. The people don’t want the government intruding on their life.”

“This whole thing is a lead balloon. We may as well put it out to pasture before it ruins our reputation.”


The expression “lead balloon” originates from a syndicated newspaper cartoon circulating in June 1924. Surprisingly, the phrase didn’t catch on till two decades later, after the end of World War II. The first recorded use of the saying appears in the Atchison Daily Globe, in an article published in May 1947, where it appears as follows.

“But occasionally, a column or comic strip will ‘go over’ like a V-1 rocket in one community and, for inexplicable reasons, a lead balloon in another.”

However, the rock band Led Zeppelin gets the credit for popularizing the saying. After completing a tour and performing with the Scandinavian band, “the New Yardbirds,” the frontman for the English heavy metal band, Jimmy Page, formed a side band with members from the New Yardbirds.

However, the band failed miserably, with Keith Moon from Led Zeppelin saying that the band would “go down like a lead balloon.”

Phrases Similar to Lead Balloon

  • Dismal failure.
  • Sank like a stone.
  • To bomb.
  • Go down in flames.

Phrases Opposite to Lead Balloon

  • Skyrocketing success.
  • Outstanding achievement.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Go over like a lead balloon.
  • Go down like a lead balloon.

Ways People May Say Lead Balloon Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with balloons or lead. The balloon in the expression is your idea or concept. To “go down” or “go over” means that the project sank into failure with no support from the people you needed to make it work.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Lead Balloon

You can use the phrase “lead balloon” to describe an idea that didn’t pan out as you expected, resulting in a total failure of the venture. The term suits social and professional situations. You could say your idea of going to the park on the weekend turned out to be a lead balloon because none of your friends showed up.

It’s a way of saying that no one supports your ideas or way of thinking. You could use it at work to describe the failure of a project after receiving no interest from management or the market. If you have a lead balloon, your idea sank into obscurity rather than obtaining the support it needed to thrive.

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