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c. 1930s - 1960s

Flying through the air with the greatest of ease

The trampoline started in Iowa and ended up in the Olympics

A man on a trampoline seemingly floats over Manhattan's famed skyline.

It seems like no one should have needed to invent something as seemingly generic as the trampoline. But that is exactly what happened in Iowa, in 1936. 

Of course, people had been throwing other people into the air on taut fabrics since time immemorial—perhaps most notably on walrus skin by the Inuit to celebrate their whale harvest, and, in the book Don Quixote, as a punishment for the character Sancho Panza.

In 1936, University of Iowa gymnasts George Nissen and Larry Griswold first created, and named, the spring-loaded trampoline. In Mexico, Nissen had heard the word trampolín—the Spanish word for “springboard.” Inspired, he trademarked the anglicized version for their invention, which they used when touring fairs and carnivals.

Taking it a stage further, in 1941 the two men incorporated the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company. Conclusive proof that they had a success came when the US government used trampolines to train pilots to right themselves, during WWII. In the 1960s, it was used to enable astronauts to learn to self-right.

In the early 1970s, the two men founded the United States Tumbling & Trampoline Association (USTA). And, finally more than sixty years after the Iowa invention, trampolining became an official event in the Olympic Games, in 2000.  This had been a long-held dream of Nissen—and he was there in the arena, aged 86, to see the event occur in person.

One of the Rudell Trio rehearsing a trampoline act, which involves a striptease for a performance at the Palladium.
Charles Hewitt/Getty Images
Larry Schwanzer demonstrating his prowess on a home-made trampoline on the roof of the Madison Square Boys Club. The club roof was designed for a playground and summer day camp.
Bettman/Getty Images
Fenner Hamilton Company, then the world’s second-largest trampoline manufacture.
Ira Gay Sealy/The Denver Post/Getty Images
People jumping in a roadside trampoline park in Los Angeles. Outsiders could win memberships by performing tricky jumps better than a member.
Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A man flies off a trampoline at Santa Monica Beach.
Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Film actor Shichizo Takedo jumps on a trampoline in Los Angeles. Customers could rent the use of a trampoline for 40 cents per half hour.
Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Eskimos using homemade trampolines to celebrate the end of whaling season.
Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A multiple exposure shot of a gymnist jumping on a trampoline.
J. R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Six sizes of trampolines manufactured by Nissen Trampoline Co.
Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A man falling upside down after bouncing off of a trampoline.
George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A couple somersault over a trampoline.
Nocella/Three Lions/Getty Images
Jumpsville USA, an outdoor trampoline centre at Hempstead Turnpike, East Meadow, N.Y.
Sherman/Three Lions/Getty Images
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