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The History of BOING!

How a kid like you dreamed up the trampoline

Inti St. Clair/Getty Images

Trampoline use can lead to injury. Always stay in control while jumping!

George Nissen was 7 years old in 1921 when he went to the circus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He watched trapeze artists flip and twist through the air, then land with a bounce on a safety net stretched below. George was fascinated by the springy net, says his daughter Dian Nissen. “That trip to the circus sparked his creativity and imagination.”

When George was 12, he joined a gymnastics club. He drew a design for a springy device that gymnasts could bounce on to practice flips. At the time, George didn’t know how to build it. But years later, after much trial and error, he invented the trampoline!

George Nissen was 7 years old when he went to the circus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was 1921. He watched trapeze artists fly through the air. They would land with a bounce on a safety net below. George was amazed by the springy net, says his daughter Dian Nissen. “That trip to the circus sparked his creativity and imagination.”

George joined a gymnastics club when he was 12. He drew a design for a springy device. Gymnasts could bounce on it to practice flips. George didn’t know how to build it at the time. It took years of trial and error. But it would become the trampoline!

A Leap Forward

George built his first prototype, or testable model, when he was 16. One day, he took apart his bed and stretched a sheet of canvas across the wooden frame. 

Then he jumped on it. He noticed this first device had a problem: It wasn’t bouncy!

Four years later, George shared his idea with Larry Griswold, his gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa. They began working together to improve his device, which George called a “bouncing rig.”

They decided to line the metal frame with rubber rings. When a person jumped on the canvas, the rings stretched downward. As the rings snapped back to their original shape, the canvas flung the jumper high into the air. George called this prototype the “trampoline” for the Spanish word trampolín, which means “diving board.”

George thought his invention could be used to train athletes. Then one summer, he took a prototype to a camp for kids to test. Kids had so much fun on the trampoline that he couldn’t get them off it. “George realized his invention had a lot more potential,” says Dian.

George built his first prototype when he was 16. A prototype is a testable model of an invention. George took apart his bed. He stretched a canvas sheet across the wooden frame. Then he jumped on it. But the device had a problem. It wasn’t bouncy!

George shared his idea four years later. He told his gymnastics coach. His name was Larry Griswold. He taught at the University of Iowa. They worked together to improve the device, which George called a “bouncing rig.”

They lined a metal frame with rubber rings. A person jumped on a canvas sheet attached to the rings. The rings stretched downward. Then they snapped back. That caused the canvas to pop up. It flung the jumper high into the air. George called this prototype a “trampoline.” It was named after the Spanish word trampolín, which means “diving board.”

George thought his invention could help train athletes. He took a prototype to a camp for kids to test one summer. They had so much fun. He couldn’t get them off it. “George realized his invention had a lot more potential,” says Dian.

Bettmann/Getty Images

George Nissen jumps on a trampoline with a kangaroo in 1960 to promote his invention.

Thrilling Toy

In 1945, George received a patent, or legal recognition, for his invention. He founded a company to make trampolines. To sell them, he traveled the world performing trampoline shows. Soon, the invention became a popular backyard toy. In 2000, trampolining even became an Olympic sport!

George received a patent in 1945. It gave him legal rights to his invention. He started a company to make trampolines. He traveled the world performing trampoline shows to sell his device. Soon, it became a popular backyard toy. Trampolining even became an Olympic sport in 2000!

United States Patent and Trademark Office (Patent)

Over the years, George improved his design. He swapped the rubber rings with metal springs to give it more bounce. He also tried different shapes and sizes. The earliest design was rectangular. George later created a round trampoline, which was less expensive to build.

George passed away in 2010. According to Dian, her dad saw the trampoline as a device that makes exercise fun and exciting. He would say: “An invention is just familiar items rearranged to create a surprising result.” 

Over the years, George kept tweaking his design. He swapped the rubber rings with metal springs. They gave trampolines more bounce. He also tried different shapes and sizes. The earliest design was a rectangle. George later created a round trampoline. It cost less to build.

George passed away in 2010. Dian says her dad saw the trampoline as a device that makes exercise fun and exciting. “An invention is just familiar items rearranged to create a surprising result,” he’d say. 

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