It seems like humans have always wanted to invent things that would allow them to move and interact in ways that were beyond the capabilities they were born with. Ever since humans became aware of the bird’s ability to fly, we too wanted to fly, and when we observed the bouncing and jumping capabilities of various creatures in the animal kingdom, we too wanted to replicate their gravity-defying ability. The idea for the trampoline occurred to George Nissan in the 1930s when he was watching trapeze artists perform at a circus. When they would fall or jump from the trapeze, they would land in a net below, which would spring board them back up into the air, breaking their fall and allowing them another chance for a trick or two.
Nissan realized that it wouldn’t be that hard to create a structure that would act just like the net, but instead of only allowing a bounce or two, it would continually rebound the gymnast into the air, allowing for bigger jumps and more intricate tricks. The original jumping platform made by Nissan used crude trampoline parts, including a wooden or iron frame, canvas trampoline mat, and metal springs that connected the mat to the frame.
Because the canvas trampoline mat was stretched so tightly between the railings of the frame, the springs caused the entire surface to become elastic. Although jumpers would start out small, they could use the rebounding motion of their jump to propel themselves higher and higher into the air, allowing time for jumps and tricks. The structure was actually without a name until Nissan took it on a demonstration tour in Mexico. There he heard the word “trampoline” which meant diving board, and in1942 the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company was founded in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
It didn’t take long for people to realize that the magic of the trampoline springs was useful for more than just bouncing gymnasts and children high into the air. During World War II, trampolines were used as an integral part of the armed forces physical training program. Because of the unique rebounding motion of the trampoline, it could be used to train pilots and navigators to have aerial awareness even when they were in an unfamiliar situation. By learning to bounce and flip on the trampolines, Navy officers developed a reduced fear of falling or being upside down, as well as the ability to remain focused while revolving in midair.