The modern day trampoline is believed to have been inspired by Eskimos in the late 19th century. The Inuit people, who occupy the arctic regions of Greenland, would hold a mat made of walrus skin in groups of three or four and then propel the bouncer seated on top into the air. This shares similarities with the modern trampoline in that the material used as a bounce mat wasn't elasticated, the only difference is the people replaced the springs and frame. There is evidence that this practise was replicated by people in Europe with the use of blankets.
Modern Trampolines: Enter George Nissen
The first trampoline that included a frame was invented by George Nissen. A native of the state of Iowa, Nissen went to see a travelling circus perform in 1930. He observed trapeze artists perform a daring routine and then dismount into a safety net. He thought their routine would be even more spectacular if the performers carried on doing tricks whilst bouncing on the outstretched net. A keen gymnast and swimmer himself, he adapted his own primitive trampoline which strapped a piece of canvas to a rectangular metal frame.
Nissen's idea was later elaborated on in collaboration with Larry Griswold in 1934 who was his gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa. The mat was attached to the frame with the use of inner tyre tubes initially and then replaced with the springs that are used today.
In 1937 he performed in a travelling act through Mexico and the States at carnivals with two of his friends from Iowa University. The word trampoline was derived from the Spanish word for diving board "el trampolín" and was then trademarked by Nissen. "Grisworld-Nissen Trampoline and Tumbling Company" was formed in 1942 which made the first mass market trampolines.
Although Griswold and Nissen only envisioned trampolines being used in gymnastics an important step in their popularisation was their use as part of training in US navy flight school. Trampolines were used due to their versatility in conditioning the pilots for the movement and turns they would need to use during battle. They were also useful in helping pilots getting used to heights and help them reach a high level of fitness in a way which was enjoyable.
Trampolines were subsequently used by NASA to prepare their astronauts for space travel. This was also to improve the astronauts' physical fitness and well being as well as preparing them for the weightlessness they would experience in space.
Trampolines become an Olympics Sport
As the trampoline grew in popularity the first worldwide trampoline competition was held in 1964 in London. The success of trampolining grew in the subsequent decades until eventually it was included as a sport in the summer Olympics in Sydney during the year 2000.
The rich history of trampolines that has developed from humble beginnings in George Nissen's garage is indicative of the joy, entertainment and effective physical exercise that they have provided to millions all over the world throughout the last seven decades. In an age of computer games, the internet and smart phones there is still much to be said for the physical and mental wellbeing a person can enjoy from going for a bounce!