Above: George Nissen (left) and Nissen bouncing with a kangaroo.
ON THIS DATE in 1914, trampoline-inventor George Nissen was born. At age seventeen in 1931, the Blairstown, Iowa, resident constructed his first crude “rebound tumbling” device, made from used canvas and junkyard scraps. After making several improvements to his trampoline, Nissen took the invention to a YMCA summer camp in 1934. He realized he had something special when the youngsters chose bouncing on the trampoline to swimming, despite the searing summer heat.
With Larry Griswold, his former gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa, Nissen started the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company in Cedar Rapids in 1941. During World War II, they sold about 100 trampolines to the military, which used them as part of physical training programs for pilots and navigators. Nissen said he came up with the word trampoline after hearing the Spanish word trampolin, for “diving board” or “springboard.”
In 1998 at the age of eighty-four Nissen said, “When you see hundreds of kids jumping on trampolines, you know that the idea really was worth something.”