When Did Home Trampolines Become Popular?

The home trampoline is a staple of both work and play for a lot of people around the world. Fun, effective, and a great way to get some much-needed exercise in, the home trampoline has had its ups and downs over the years.

That being said, more and more people are rediscovering the trampoline and, thanks to advanced safety features, are finding new ways to enjoy rebounding at home.

A Brief History of the Trampoline

Understanding how and why it became popular at home, it’s important to understand where they came from.

The idea of launching oneself into the air has been around for centuries. The springboard, a board that is attached to a spring setup on one end to provide additional lift, can be traced back as early as the end of the first millennium. It’s still used today in diving boards and on the Olympic gymnastics circuit.

Similarly, the Middle Ages introduced “the leaps,” a wooden plank supported by blocks at both ends. This was less complex than the springboard, but easy to carry and even make on the fly, and it allowed acrobats to leap high in the air and perform routines that involved mid-air tricks and landing on the board again.

It’s been suggested that the first proto-trampolines were invented for the circus by a Frenchman named, appropriately enough, “du Trampoline.” Legend has it that he was looking for a safer safety net for trapeze artists, preferably one that would not only keep them from falling to their deaths, but could also be used in the act, allowing them to fall into the net then bounce back up into their routine. He did this by taking the current net and adding spring fasteners to the outside, then attaching them to a frame.

However, this story is likely apocryphal.

The first modern trampoline as we know it was invented in 1936 by George Nissen. A remarkable gymnast himself, he envisioned his invention being used as part of a formal sport involving balls and nets. He had worked out the rules of the game and how it would be played on his device which used canvas stretched between a serious of springs and attached to a frame. The name was not deriviative of a French circus performer, but rather based on the Spanish word “trampolin,” meaning “springboard,” which Nissen heard while vacationing in Mexico.

What Nissen couldn’t have expected was the ways in which his invention would become popular. For one thing, they became an important training tool for pilots during World War II. Not only did it help trainees to better understand body positioning, but they could also get used to some of the sensations involved in flight.

Schools and public exercise organizations like the YMCA also ended up buying into trampolines quite a bit in the 1950s. Schools in particular were using trampolines as a regular part of their physical education programs since they were not only fun, but a great way to get a workout for kids. Universities soon picked up on the trend, even working out unofficial tournaments based on a wide range of games that they came up with.

By 1964 international trampolining was a formal sport. Not quite the idea that Nissen had, the rules of the International Trampoline Association had a concept closer to gymnastics than basketball, involving the competitors performing routines based on making eight contacts with the mat and doing midair tricks for judges who could award points.

By 1975, the first commercial rebounders were created and sold to the home market, but it would still have a long battle to reach success.

Safety and Concern

At first, home rebounders were incredibly popular, selling over 70,000 units in their first year and nearly 100,000 the second. Despite the early popularity of the item, though, by 1977 warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics would have schools remove trampolines from their curricula due to safety concerns.

The AAP had been studying trampolines for years and discovered a number of injuries related to bouncing, most of them involving children who bounced off to the ground or hit their heads on the frame. In extreme cases, the AAP claimed, children could break bones or even suffer quadriplegia. While these claims were slightly overblown, with trampolining showing no higher rates of injuries than comparable sports and even smaller injury rates than sports like football, it was enough to start a panic among parents and soon trampolines were starting to disappear from public spaces.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the burgeoning home market took an enormous hit, with sales dropping dramatically as public access to trampolines got smaller. People who grew up with them as a part of the school curriculum were getting fewer and less likely to purchase their own, and those who were generally unfamiliar with them were as likely to know about the AAP warnings as they were about any potential benefits.

The market held on through the 70s and into the mid-80s when two major changes may have saved the home trampoline.

Keeping the Trampoline Alive

First, the invention of a cheap, easy to manufacture and assemble mini trampoline was crucial to keeping the trampoline from becoming extinct. This new item could give the user many of the same benefits of a trampoline, but wouldn’t require a wide open space and could be moved out of the way easily, unlike the large, early back yard models. These could also be safely used in schools again since they were generally low to the ground, could only fit one student at a time, and didn’t provide the same amount of lift, so there was less risk of serious injury.

The other change was how it was marketed. Instead of being pushed as an entertainment, rebounder companies started marketing the trampoline as an exercise tool, not dissimilar to how they were thought of in the 1950s. The target demographic for this push skewed older, often aimed at people who were kids in the 40s and 50s, had fond memories of the trampoline, and could now justify the purchase of a mini tramp as a low-impact exercise machine which would help them maintain good cardiovascular health, increase their muscle mass, and fight joint problems.

The new marketing push was exactly what was needed to revitalize the industry. While it was slow, sales of trampolines continued to climb through the 1980s and 1990s. Despite continued warnings of how dangerous they were, including a famous court case in 1995 which held Limax International accountable for injuries sustained on their equipment, sales continued to increase annually to today, only really seeing a major drop during the financial crisis that started in 2008.

Trampoline Sales Today

Modern trampoline sales are the highest they have ever been, representing an industry that sells approximately 500,000 units annually and has dozens of companies producing new innovations. Public trampolining companies, many of which fill warehouses with interconnected trampolines and sell time to play on them, are gaining popularity. This is possible because most of the advances in trampoline technology have less to do with lift and more to do with safety.

The trampolines of today are among the safest they have ever been, with innovations including safety nets attached to the frames, padding for the springs, and easily locking legs that won’t collapse under constant bouncing severely reducing the number of trampoline-related accidents per year.

Since their introduction to the home market in 1975, trampolines have struggled to maintain the popularity that they enjoyed when every school child was raised bouncing on them. Despite the fears associated with rebounding, they have still managed to find a place in the modern market and it looks like they will only continue to get more popular as time goes on.

Rick Mason