For most people living today, the trampoline has been something that has always been around. Plenty of people have fun memories of jumping on a trampoline in their own or a friend's backyard during the spring or summer.
But have you ever thought about the history of the trampoline? Who got the idea to invent the first trampoline, and what gave that person that idea? On top of that, when was the first trampoline made? In many ways, the trampoline is as old as human history itself. However, the version of the trampoline most people are familiar with dates back to the early 20th century.
Where Did Trampolines Come From?
Trampolines are most likely much older than you think. Ancient cultures are believed to have used an apparatus similar to today's trampolines for fun and recreation. Evidence of these early day trampolines can be seen in drawings created by people living in ancient Egypt, Persia and China.
Beyond ancient cultures, there is more evidence of early use of trampolines or trampoline-like devices. In some cases, the use of the equipment might not be what you'd expect.
1. Inuit Blanket Toss
The Inuit people live in Alaska and Arctic parts of Canada. They created something called the "Blanket Toss," which uses a device very similar to the modern trampoline. A group of 30 or more people will stand in a circle, around the edge of a large, circular piece of walrus skin. Each person will pick up the side of the skin, and one person will climb on top of the surface. The others will push in on the skin, then pull it taut so the person standing on top flies into the air.
These days, the Blanket Toss is all fun and games. The people who get tossed into the air often throw candy into the crowd. The goal of the game is to either see who can jump the highest or who can stay standing the longest. If a person falls instead of landing on their feet, their turn is over.
Initially, though, the Blanket Toss played an essential role in hunting. The person who volunteered for the Blanket Toss was able to see much further than those on the ground while in the air. This meant they could see where any potential prey — or predators — were lurking in the distance.
The Blanket Toss initially fell out of favor around the beginning of the 1900s. But renewed interest in it as a cultural activity led to its return in the 1930s. Nowadays, the Blanket Toss often takes place during festivals and other special events.
2. Firefighters' Safety Net
Another early form of the trampoline was something known as a Browder Life Net. If you've ever watched a cartoon where a group of firefighters break out what looks like a large trampoline and encourage someone to leap from a burning building onto it, you've seen a Browder Life Net in action. The device is named after its inventor, who first patented it in 1887.
The concept behind the life net seemed to be that the canvas fabric stretched taut across a metal ring would provide enough bounce to sufficiently break a person's fall. The reality is that in some cases, the safety nets weren't so safe. While the nets often proved useful if people had to leap from a window on the second, third or even fifth floor, they typically didn't save lives when people had to jump from the seventh floor or higher.
Despite the fact that they weren't particularly helpful when it came to preventing death or serious injury, the safety nets remained in use up until the 1970s. By that point, many fire trucks had ladders that could reach high enough to help rescue people trapped in the upper floors of a burning building.
Who Invented the First Trampoline?
The earliest form of the trampoline as you know it dates to the 1930s. George Nissen, a swimmer and gymnast, was inspired by a trapeze act he saw at a traveling circus, which was performing in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The trapeze artists finished their performances by landing on a safety net and bouncing away. Nissen thought it would be cool if the artists continued to jump and use the safety net as a springboard for more tricks.
It was that inspiration that led him to create the proto-trampoline, in his parents' garage, in 1934. He called his creation a "bouncing rig." It initially featured a sheet of canvas stretched across a rectangular frame, made from steel.
With the help of his gymnastics coach, Larry Griswold, the barely 20-year-old Nissen added inner tube tires to the design. The tires connected the canvas to the frame and gave it more bounce. Those tires would eventually be replaced with springs.
Nissen didn't come up with the name "trampoline" for his invention until later on. He took his bouncing rig on the road, performing in an act called the "Three Leonardos." While performing in Mexico, Nissen learned the Spanish word for a diving board is "trampolin." He stuck an "e" onto the end of the word and had a name he could trademark: "trampoline."
Nearly a decade after he and Griswold first invented and then refined the trampoline, the pair started their own company, the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company. The brand began to produce and sell the trampolines commercially.
Trampolines for Fun
From the early days, trampolines proved to be crowd pleasers, especially when kids were involved. Nissen and Griswold often took their trampolines to schools, where they demonstrated how to use them during assemblies and invited schoolchildren to participate. Across the U.S., "jump centers" appeared at gas stations. While parents filled up their gas tanks, kids could take a break and jump on trampolines.
The pair also tried to invent games designed for playing on a trampoline. One such game is "Spaceball," which was played on a rectangular trampoline that had a net stretched across the middle and raised sides. In some ways similar to volleyball or tennis, the goal of the game was to send a ball through a hole in the net over to the opponent's side. Unfortunately, the game never really caught on, so you're unlikely to come across many — if any — spaceball courts these days.
Trampolines in the Military and Space Program
In the early days, trampolines weren't only for kids playing in the backyard or for acrobats and gymnasts. The U.S. military and later on, the Russian and U.S. space programs, found a use for trampolines as training devices. During the second world war, the military used trampolines to train pilots. The feeling of weightlessness a person feels while jumping in the air on a trampoline is similar to the sensation of weightlessness while flying or in space.
Nissen himself had a hand in convincing the military to use the trampoline as part of its training program. Thanks to his efforts, his fledgling company got so many orders for the equipment that he ended up having to delay enlisting in the armed forces himself.
The military's involvement with trampolines led to a slight change in the construction and design of the device. At the time, nylon webbing was a new fabric, used for parachute straps. Nissen realized it could also replace the canvas fabric in his trampolines, providing a more durable surface, and perhaps most importantly, more bounce.
Trampoline World Championships
After the war and the space race, trampolines were able to return to being fun again. In 1960, Nissen thought it would be fun to train a kangaroo — rented from a place on Long Island — to jump on the apparatus. During his kangaroo training session, he was able to get the animal to stand on one side of the trampoline while he bounced on the other. The result was a now-iconic picture of Nissen and the kangaroo in mid-air, looking like they're having a grand time.
A few years after his kangaroo photo-op, the first Trampoline World Championships took place in London. Twelve countries participated in the first championship competition, with jumpers from the U.S. taking home both the men's and ladies' gold medals. The championships initially took place yearly but switched to an every other year schedule in the 1970s. In 1999, the championships moved again, this time taking place in the year before the Olympics.
Trampolining in the Olympics
Although trampolining has been a sport since the 1960s, it didn't make it into the Olympics until the year 2000 for the Sydney Olympics. Trampolining has been part of every summer Olympics since then, with events for both men and women.
During the 2000 games, Aleksandr Moskalenko and Irina Karavayeva, both from Russia, took home the gold. Moskalenko had been a three-time medalist during the Trampoline World Championships and came out of retirement to participate in the first Olympic games.
The Evolution of the Trampoline in the 20th and 21st Century
Even from its earliest days, the commercial trampoline has seen a considerable amount of change. In some cases, trampolines evolved as better, more advanced materials became available. One example of that is the switch from canvas to bouncier nylon webbing. Today, most trampolines are made from either a waterproof canvas or woven polypropylene. Another example is the shift from using rubber tires to coil springs to attach the bounce mat material to the frame, and ultimately, the addition of padding around the perimeter of the trampoline.
Types of Trampolines
Along with a change in the materials used to make trampolines, there has also a been a shift in the kinds of trampolines available. Concerns about safety, resulting from injuries and lawsuits throughout the 20th century, have led to the development of safety features on many trampoline models.
You can divide trampolines into two major categories:
- Competitive: Competitive trampolines are designed to give a jumper more lift and often come with a much higher price tag.
- Recreational: If you're looking for a trampoline for your backyard, you're most likely in the market for a recreational one.
If you're in the market for a trampoline, there's a lot to consider. Recreational trampolines differ regarding size and shape. Smaller models are often about 8-feet in diameter or across while larger models can be as wide as 16 feet or, in the case of rectangular trampolines, up to 10 by 17 feet. How many people will use the trampoline also time influences the size that's right for you. If just one person will jump at a time, an 8-feet model is sufficient. But if you want to jump with your friends, you'll need a model that's at least 10 feet wide.
How many people will jump at once can also influence the shape of trampoline that works for you. Round trampolines tend to be the most commonly available variety because it is particularly sturdy, without adding a lot of weight. The circular shape also helps to keep a person in the center of the trampoline, rather than close to the edges. If just a single person is bouncing, it's pretty easy for them to stay in the center of the trampoline.
Oval trampolines can often be ideal if more than one person will jump at a time. The oval shape allows each jumper to have their own area of the trampoline to bounce on, which can reduce the chance of people bumping into each other.
However, trampolines don't have to have curved edges — square and rectangular shapes are also available. In fact, rectangular trampolines are the most commonly used shape in competition since they are so large. Another benefit of square or rectangular trampolines is that more than one person can jump at a time with less of a chance of people colliding mid-air.
Safety Concerns That Led to the Trampoline Today
One of the critical changes in the design of the modern-day trampoline was the development of particular safety features. A particularly important safety feature on recreational trampolines is the safety net. Ideally, safety nets will surround and enclose the trampoline. They can be made from a range of materials, but polyethylene is often preferable.
Polyethylene usually lasts longer than materials such as polyester and polypropylene, which tend to rip more easily because they don't have as much give. Polyethylene is also considerably easier to clean and care for than other materials.
Another key feature of the safety net is the zipper used at the entrance. Kids — and adults — are likely to bounce around freely while using the trampoline. It's crucial that the zipper is strong enough to withstand any force or pressure from bouncing people.
Safety pads are another feature developed to protect people while they use the trampoline. The metal springs that attach most jump mats to the trampoline's frame can pinch, poke or otherwise hurt a jumper. A pad that not only provides cushioning in the event of a fall but can also withstand wind, rain and other elements is a must.
Find Quality Trampolines From SkyBound USA
Now that you know all about the history and evolution of trampolines, take a look at some of the models available from SkyBound USA. We have trampolines in a range of shapes and sizes. Each one comes complete with safety features to protect your kids from injury. If you have more questions about trampolines or need help choosing the model that's perfect for you, feel free to contact us today.