|Photo courtesy: J.R. Eyerman|
Exploding during the late 1950s, trampoline jump centers became a fad that left the entire countryside dotted with a multitude of holes dug in the ground each covered by a stretch of canvas.
Even though the craze lasted only three years, it turned out to be enough time for many individuals to line their pockets with cash and provide newspaper photographers with plenty of photo opportunities.
The tale begins in 1957, with a fellow by the name of Jess Robinson, who worked for Stan Mattox, a Nissen Trampoline Company sales representative for Southern California. Stan opened a branch sales office in San Fernando Valley called the "Valley Trampoline Center," and hired Jess to give trampoline lessons as well as handle sales and servicing for Nissen trampolines.
Word quickly spread of the unique and lucrative outdoor bouncing club.
|Jess Robinson Trampoline Club|
Photo: Ralph Crane
Not long after, Jess was approached by Bill Sorenson, President of the American Trampoline Company based out of Jefferson, Iowa, with an offer to become a sales representative. Robinson accepted and within 14 weeks sold enough trampolines to new owners to outfit 75 independent centers.
Across the country, trampoline jump centers became a marketing phenomenon. Hundreds of entrepreneurs dug holes and set up their bouncing businesses near shopping centers, on vacant lots and within visual range of busy thorough fares. “Pit tramp” was the new slang term used to describe the leg-less trampoline that laid flat atop an open pit.
|Jumpin' Gymini Jump Center, Detroit, Michigan|
The trampoline jump center craze soon caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times who broke the story with a May 15, 1959 headline proclaiming Business Is Bouncing. The article described trampoline jump center owners as, “coming from all walks of life ranging from Light Heavy Weight boxing champ Archie Moore, to Actor Joe Kirkwood Jr., to several Hollywood stuntmen, and even a Mormon Church group which funneled its profits into a building project.”
|Photo courtesy: Jimmy Rae family|
|1961 White Station High School yearbook, Memphis, Tennessee|
Word on the street was that some owners took in as much as three thousand dollars within their first month of operation!
One year later, in a 1960 Los Angeles Times interview, Jess Robinson shared that his net worth was $150,000 with a projected gross income at a half million dollars.
Mixed in with photos of bouncers the LIFE article counted 175 centers in Los Angeles, with another 150 in Miami, Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Reno, and Hawaii. It further bragged that more were opening at a rate of 10 per week with the number of bouncers running into the millions.
For instance, it took only 17 days for this Cedar Rapids, Iowa owner to launch his jump center!
...17 days later Gene placed this ad:
|The Cedar Rapids Gazette - May 20, 1960|
Competition was keen as well among the top three trampoline manufacturers: Nissen
Trampoline Company (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), American Trampoline Company (Jefferson, Iowa) and Fenner-Hamilton Trampoline Company (Denver, Colorado).
For example, at the Nissen Trampoline Company, gross sales were expected to reach $4 million in 1960, with trampolines for jump centers amounting to almost 44 percent of total sales. They were producing trampolines so fast that at one point the company rented railroad box cars to use as temporary storage.
|Scotts Point Beach - Australia|
|A busy beach jump center! Durban, South Africa - 1961|
George Nissen, President of Nissen Trampoline Company,was the first to realize that something was amiss. Orders for trampolines were starting to come in from gas station owners with little knowledge of trampolines. They decided to get rich quick by opening a jump center right next to their gas station. Even though George and his sales staff provided the owners with safety booklets and encouraged the purchase of liability insurance, many didn’t bother to heed the advice. If they couldn’t buy trampolines from Nissen, then there were always the other upstart trampoline companies who wanted in on the sales bonanza as well. They made the sales with no questions asked.
By now it took upwards to $7,000 to set up a jump center complete with 10 pit tramps; the cost of the trampolines having dropped to only $300 with the remaining big investment needed for liability insurance. In California, city councils halted all jump center building permits, police routinely answered reports of “rowdy-ism” and the first ever trampoline regulation law was passed in Los Angeles.
By 1961, outdoor pit tramp jump centers were closing as fast as they had opened. Years later, George Nissen, inventor of the trampoline, admitted that witnessing the tarnished reputation that the trampoline received from jump centers was a indeed a sad period.
One bright spot remained after the gloom and doom of jump centers finally faded away. That was the sudden growth of private trampoline schools and clubs who produced the next generation of top trampoline competitors and coaches.Today, the new wave of indoor jump centers (many requiring start-up costs of up to a half-million dollars) continues to provide recreation and enjoyment on trampolines. The question remains: "Can these modern facilities meet the ongoing challenges of combining fun+safety?"
Only time will tell!
Read More at: "Jump Centers Part 2 - Two Readers Share Their Memories"
Featuring several jump centers in Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City, Iowa.
Thank you Readers!
July 6, 2013 - "Dagmar & Ronnie, thank you for sharing the history of your father's dream through the Nissen News. For me, it brings back so many wonderful memories of the times I spent working for your father at The Nissen Company. He was an extremely kind and giving man who deserves to have his dreams so recognized throughout the world. Please keep the Nissen News coming :-)" Respectfully, David Jacobs
July 10, 2013 - "I never knew trampoline was a vintage invention. Hope the craze will be back so that people could have fun while keeping fit." Ed of TrampolineSprings.com
July 14, 2013 - "Great stuff. Lots of great memories with the web site. Don't forget guys like Bob Fenner that helped George get on his way. My dad Bob Fenner has a great deal of history with George (7x14) and much more. Great way to keep the past alive." Tbone6912