Tuesday, July 30, 2013

1961 - The Great Trampoline Jump Center CRAZE! - Part 1 (Trampoline History)

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.

     Jess had an old backyard trampoline at his home, which he sold through a listing in the local newspaper. It sold on the first day, and then Jess's home phone rang for three more days with interested buyers. Seeing an opportunity in the making, 36-year old Jess decided to invest $400 in a vacant lot and outfitted it with several trampolines, thus opening the first jump center! His idea was to surround the area with a fence, dig large holes and lay the trampolines across them at ground level rather than set the trampolines up on their legs. Robinson charged his members for basic instruction plus open “jump time.” 

     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.”

     In Falls Church, Virginia, the famous international acrobat Jimmy Rae, operated a popular jump center that had 50 pit trampolines!

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.

     Articles and photos continued to appear in magazines and hundreds of local newspapers culminating in the iconic May 20, 1960 LIFE magazine cover and article, Boom in Bounceland Gives Nation the Jumps! (For the article, scroll down to page 34) 

     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.

Meanwhile, overseas...

Scotts Point Beach - Australia
A busy beach jump center! Durban, South Africa - 1961

     As a result of growth in jump centers, safety became increasingly difficult to control and inevitably accidents happened.  

     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!

The 'fun' continues! 

                         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 


  1. I was in jr high when this hit in Los Angeles - I'd forgotten they were called trampoline pits - only remembered they were 'in ground' trampolines vs the free standing ones many bought for their home use.

    1. Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time - - smack in the middle of the craze! Enjoy those memories!

  2. It is really great Trampoline Jump Center. Thanks for given this post In old version. I have read this post. Dagmar, I want to learn more about Trampoline rules.

  3. I remember the trampoline centers!! Nards, in Amarillo, Texas was one of the first in country where he taught many young men and women how to compete competitively. Many of his students went on to college via a scholarship thanks to Nard!


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