March 7, 2012

George Nissan Invents Trampoline to Help Him Train

Like last week, l wanted to tell you about another athlete who invented something that we see everywhere now.  It’s the Trampoline!

George Nissan was a son of immigrants.  He was born in Iowa in 1914.  He loved Gymnastics and participated on that team and the Diving team while in High School.  It was then that he went to the Circus and saw the trapeze artists do their tricks and then fall into the nets.  When they landed, they’d bounce back up and strike poses and do flips.  George was always trying to find more ways to improve his dives and his gymnastic moves.  If he could jump on something springy he could have more opportunities to practice his moves.

In his parent’s garage, George cobbled together a metal frame from pipes he had scavenged from a local junkyard.  He stretched a canvas inside the frame using rubber inner tubes to attach it to the frame.  He tried it and loved it.  He was just 16 years old when he made this first prototype.

George began college at the University of Iowa.  He consulted with his Gymnastics coach and the engineering department at the school.  They helped him build a stronger rig that he could commercialize in 1934.  George brought his contraption to a summer camp where he had a job as a camp counselor.  When he saw how much fun the kids were having jumping on it, he knew it would be a hit.  Some of the kids would rather jump than swim!  George studied Business so he could know how to market his invention and graduated from University of Iowa with a Business degree in 1937.  While in college, George won the Inter-Collegiate National Championship three times in Gymnastics, probably due to extra training time on his invention.

George rounded up a couple of friends (they called themselves the ‘Three Leonardo’s) and they took the Trampoline around America and Mexico to demonstrate fun moves on it, in an effort for it to catch on and sell.  While in Mexico, he named it a ‘Trampoline’ after the Spanish word (el trampolin) that means ‘diving board’ or ‘spring board.’  George began making them for customers, first with canvas and then with nylon as the netting.  One of his first big customers was the US Government.  World War 1 had broken out and the trampoline was used to train parachutists, pilots and divers to reorient themselves midair.    

George joined the Navy in 1943, and after serving during the war, he spent years demonstrating the utility and enjoyment Trampolines offer.  He incorporated the ‘Nissan Trampoline Company’ to build and market it. He married an Acrobat and they travelled around the world to showcase tumbling on the Trampoline.  He even arranged for a Kangaroo to jump with him on one of his demonstrations in New York’s Central Park.  Another time, he assembled a trampoline on top of an Egyptian Pyramid and jumped high above it.  

George was thrilled in 1947 when ‘Trampoline’ or ‘rebound tumbling’ became a Gymnastic event.  Many years later, in 2000, ‘Trampoline’ became an Olympic Sport for the first time at the Sydney Olympic games.  George was so happy to hear this that he bought himself and his family tickets to each of the Trampoline events there in Australia.  

A crazy idea to help a 16 year old boy train in his chosen sports of Gymnastics and Diving became a world sport and a common backyard toy.  Don’t discount the ideas that you or other kids have.  They might just change the world.

For more, see:
Hevesi, Dennis.  “George Nissan, Father of the Trampoline, dies at 96.”  April 13, 2010, New York Times.  Found at:
_____, MIT Inventor of the week website, March 2004, found at:
Nelson, Valerie J.  “George Nissan dies at 96; Inventor of the Trampoline,” April 10, 2010, Los Angeles Times.  Found at:

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