While trying to keep your legs tucked in tight and not break apart as you are being bounced by family and friends, it is doubtful that the history of trampolines will even cross your mind. In fact, before the late 1960s, the existence of trampolines was pretty much unknown. Since that time, backyards across the nation and in various parts of the world came alive with laughter and squeals of delight brought about by trampolines.
This article will take a look at trampolines from their earliest known origin all the way up through their modern forms and uses. In addition, it will take a look at the various ways they have been used outside of fun and fitness. It will also attempt to look into the future as modern technology and designs shape what the trampoline is likely to become. With these goals in mind, let’s start out by taking a look at the trampoline’s earliest origins.
The whale harvest of the Inuit natives of Canada and the United States was cause for celebration and fun for centuries before springs, steel frames, and polyester mats were even in someone’s imagination. A game, similar to trampolining, in which dancing acrobats were tossed into the air on a walrus hide by a dozen or more men, was a part of their Nalukataq celebration.
The form that our modern trampoline takes was first used in Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, though it was more like a springboard, or a board with heavy springs underneath it to create bounce. In the early years of the 20th century acrobats and performers used a modified spring mattress or “bouncing bed” to amuse audiences. An artiste by the name of du Trampoline is said to have envisioned the design that would become the trampoline when he began experimenting with different ways of using the trapeze safety net as a form of propulsion as well as landing.
Though it is certainly plausible that the trampoline had its earliest roots in circus performance, the development of the apparatus and its name, as we know it today, was developed by a gymnast and diving competitor by the name of George Nissen along with a tumbler named Larry Griswold in 1936.
Modern Design Types and Uses
The idea for the modern design of trampolines by Griswold and Nissen came from observing trapeze artists and their safety net. The two developed an apparatus made of an angle iron frame and stretched a piece of canvas with grommets inserted into it around the frame using coiled springs. It was initially used to train tumblers, but gained popularity in its own right rather quickly. While demonstrating their apparatus in Mexico in the late 1930s, Nissen heard the Spanish word, “trampoline,” which means diving board, and decided to use an anglicized form of the word as the trademark name of their apparatus.
Griswold and Nissen’s new device became so popular that the two formed a company for manufacturing and distributing it called the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company, giving birth to the trampoline industry. In anticipation of their recreational use, Nissen even developed a trampoline game known as Spaceball, which really never took hold.
Sports Cross Training
Since its inception, the trampoline has been used for sports cross-training. It was first used in gymnastics and tumbling training, but was also made use of for training divers. As skiing increased in popularity after World War II and freestyle skiing became a competition, trampolines were used to help train athletes in that sport as well. Essentially, any sport which incorporates aerial acrobatics into it utilizes the trampoline as a cross training device. The trampoline is constantly being added to various cross training programs with non-acrobatic elements as well as more and more trainers are recognizing the core training benefits for balance and agility that a trampoline provides.
The United States Navy Flight School made use of trampolines during World War II while training pilots and navigators. The purpose behind the training was to help them to practice concentrated spatial orientation useful in flight maneuvers. After the war, both American and Soviet astronauts were trained on trampolines for both flight purposes as well as G-force and body control under weightless conditions. Since that time, NASA has engaged in cutting edge research when it comes to trampolines, their benefits and how they can be used in various forms.
Recreation rather than training is what made the trampoline popular. Even the early developers of the apparatus understood that. Trampolining did not need a lot of help in becoming popular, since it played on a natural tendency for men to want to be propelled into the air. You might even be able to remember jumping on a bed before you even knew trampolines existed. It is the recreational use of trampolines that have lead to their explosion in popularity.
Trampoline parks or “jump centers” first became an outdoor commercial activity in 1959 and 1960. It was in these trampoline parks that most people were first introduced to the trampoline. They were very popular initially, but they tended to have a high accident rate and public interest in them faded pretty quickly. However, many had caught the bouncing bug and the home trampoline industry began to take off.
Though they are tend to have weaker springs and less sturdy frames, home trampolines have been a popular item in many backyards in the U.S. since the 1960s. They became a lot more popular in the 1970s as physical education programs in public schools began to use them as part of their PE curriculum. The interest continued to grow and home trampolines grew at a steady pace, though injuries associated with trampolines in the 70s, 80s and 90s were pretty common.
Injuries have not seemed to dampen the market for home trampolines over the past several decades. However, as a means of improving safety, the enclosure device and in-ground trampolines began to swell in popularity toward the end of the 20th century. The design of the round trampoline, which tends to propel the jumper back toward the center of the trampoline was also a design advancement which improved safety. In the 21st century the round trampoline market is extremely competitive and a great deal of innovation is being put into making recreational trampolines safer.
The Revival of Trampoline Parks
Though their popularity died out in 1960 trampoline parks began to make a comeback 40 years later with a number of franchises operating in the U.S. and Canada. By 2014 the estimated number of trampoline parks in operation was 345. Governed by an entity known as the International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP), trampoline parks have continued to grow in numbers and popularity. In addition to promoting these parks, the IATP helps to make them safer and reduce trampoline related accidents.
Along with the growth of trampoline popularity for recreation, trampolining has also led to the development of a number of competitive trampolining events and sports played on trampolines. The popularity of competitive trampolining only adds more growth to the development of trampolines and the trampoline industry across the board.
World Championships and Olympic Trampolining
Ted Blake of Nissen organized the first Trampoline World Championships held in London in 1964. One of the earliest pioneers of competitive trampolining was a coach from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette by the name of Jeff Hennessey. Besides developing a stellar program at his own university, Hennessey trained more trampoline world champions than any other coach in history.
Because of the growth of competitive trampolining through world championships, trampolining was added to the Olympic Games for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It is its inclusion in the Olympic games that made a heavy contribution to the growth of recreational trampolining, especially in Australia, which has taken an innovative lead in the industry in the 21st century.
Other Competitive Trampoline Sports
Besides the gymnastic and acrobatic competitions and events of the Olympics and World Championships other competitive trampoline sports have also developed in the last few decades. Each of them is rising in varying degrees of popularity as their numbers of participants continues to swell.
One popular competition that has developed out of trampolining is wall running. This sport uses walls and platforms beside trampolines for enhancing tricks by allowing competitors to push off of the walls and platforms after being launched into the air by the trampoline. The advantage to the addition of walls and platforms is that twists and turns can be initiated with more force and vertical speed can be transferred into rotations. Wall running takes trampolining to the level of an extreme sport.
Another sport growing with wild popularity is slamball. This sport combines basketball, hockey and four trampolines at each end of the court under a basketball goal all into one. If that sounds pretty extreme to you, you are right. It is full of hardcore, fast-moving action along with plenty of solid contact, acrobatics, and of course, amazing slam dunks. The following video can provide a better explanation of this sport than words. Professional Slamball in action.
Bossaball has been growing with wild popularity throughout the last decade. Bossaball has caught on to such a level that an exhibition tournament of bossaball was featured at the Olympics in Rio with five national teams competing. Bossaball has had a world championship event annually since 2005. What is it? It is a combination of volleyball and soccer on inflatable trampolines. The acrobatics and artistic competition of this sport is truly becoming a big hit and could feature as an Olympic event in the future. Here is a video of bossaball in action.
Where the inclusion of the safety enclosure has added to the safety of trampolining, modern designs of trampolines have focused on creating a safer jumping surface. Two innovations in design have developed in an effort to lessen the prevalence of trampoline related injuries.
Analysis of the initial Griswold-Nissen trampoline design by Dr. Keith Vivian of New Zealand pointed out three major impact zones where most injuries occurred. Those impact zones were the springs, the frame and the ground. He developed a prototype of a new design in 1999 and commercial versions of his Springfree Trampoline design became available in 2004. His innovation won Dr. Vivian the Australian Design Award in 2009.
What is in the Springfree Design?
In Dr. Vivian’s design, the frame is lowered below the outside perimeter of the jumping mat, removing it as a hazard for the jumper. In order to produce bounce, the design made use of glass-reinforced plastic rods that are located underneath the perimeter of the jumping mat as well, removing a second hazard for the jumper. These rods are connected to the outer edge of the jumping mat and then to the rigid frame below. Its design has been implemented into oval and round trampoline styles, but no rectangular design has yet been developed.
Leaf Spring Trampolines
Following the concept of Dr. Vivian’s Springfree design, an Australian, Joe Andon, developed what is known as the Vuly Trampoline design or leafspring design. Andon’s design also removes the springs and frame from the jumping area to improve trampoline safety. Its main difference comes in its spring design material. Rather than using glass-reinforced plastic rods, this design place rigid metal leaf springs, like are found in the suspension of automobiles underneath the perimeter of the jumping surface and connecting to both the mat and the rigid frame.
Trampolines have established a strong foothold in our modern world from the time when the Inuits first started tossing dancers into the air on a walrus skin to the modern games and competitions that take place on trampolines. Besides competitions, trampolines have been used in sports cross-training and the training of astronauts and pilots. They are most popular for recreation in the backyard or in trampoline parks. Improvements in safety through enclosures and design are steadily reducing the number of trampoline related injuries on an annual basis. As trampolines move into the future, it is likely than more innovative designs for better bounce along with improved safety will serve to make trampolines even more popular in backyards and recreational centers around the world than they already are today.