In this October 1975 photo, Houston entrepreneur George Ballas poses with the original Weed Eater. Ballas, best known for inventing the Weed Eater, died Saturday, June 25, 2011. He was 85.
updated 6/30/2011 11:30:03 AM ET 2011-06-30T15:30:03

George C. Ballas Sr., a Houston entrepreneur best known for inventing the Weed Eater, has died. He was 85.

Ballas' son, Corky Ballas, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his father died of natural causes on Saturday.

"He changed the way we cut grass," Corky Ballas said.

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Ballas got the idea for the Weed Eater, a device also commonly known as a weed whacker, while sitting in a car wash. He wondered whether the idea of spinning bristles, like the ones cleaning his car, could be applied to trimming grass and weeds in areas a lawnmower couldn't reach.

He experimented with fishing wire that poked through holes in a tin can attached to the rotary of a lawn edger, and found that the spinning wires easily sliced through grass, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Ballas founded his Weed Eater company in Houston in 1971 and sales flourished during the subsequent decade.

He later sold his invention to Emerson Electric. As part of his agreement with Emerson, Ballas was not allowed to disclose how much he was paid, even to his family.

"A Weed Eater," Ballas told the Chronicle in 1993, "comes along once in a lifetime."

Corky Ballas said his father for years was known as the "Weed King."

But George Ballas, who was born in Ruston, La., was also a dance studio owner and dance was an important part of his family's life.

After his military service, Ballas worked for both the Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studio franchises. He was a dance instructor, but also travelled to various cities, troubleshooting to make the outlets profitable.

After moving to Houston in the late 1950s, he built and operated the Dance City USA Studio. With 120 instructors and 43,000 square feet of space, it was heralded as the largest dance studio in the world. He sold it in 1964.

Ballas' wife, Maria Louisa Ballas, was a noted flamenco dancer who studied with famed Spanish dancer Carmen Amaya and appeared in several films.

Corky Ballas became a champion ballroom dancer, and his son, Mark Ballas, is a professional dancer. Both of them have appeared on "Dancing With the Stars."

George Ballas also helped develop a Houston hotel and worked as an adjunct professor at Rice University, teaching entrepreneurship.

He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two sons and seven grandchildren.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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