George Nissen Day @Airborne Trampoline
On February 3rd, the Gymnastics and Trampoline community takes a moment to appreciate the late George Nissen by celebrating George Nissen Day. For those of you who don’t know, George Nissen was the inventor of the modern day trampoline. Without George, Airborne Trampoline and many other gymnastics and trampoline facilities would not be around to introduce everyone to the amazing sport of trampolining. Check out this great read on who he was and how the modern day trampoline came to be. Then join us today, his birthday, in remembering the great George Nissen and take a moment to reflect on how one little idea and a lot of passion can change the face of sports forever.
George Nissen was born on February 3rd 1914 in the small town of Blairstown, Iowa. As a child he professed his love for jumping on the furniture and beds with his brother. George along with his brother loved to take in the Ringling Brother Circus when it came to town and watch all the animals’ parade by. What captivated them more than the animals were the Gymnasts, Trapeze Artists, and performers on the aerial bars. He would watch them fall into the safety netting and bounce back up to their feet. He thought to himself “one day I am going to make something that can allow me to do that”.
In early high school he became interested in the sport of Gymnastics and Tumbling (as that was a part of the high school curriculum at the time). He began training in the sport and his passion rapidly grew as he grew his skill. He and his brother would continue to visit the circus to watch the trapeze artists performing with safety nets. These nets were quite simply designed to save the trapeze artists in the event that they fell, and catch them during dismount from the apparatus. George was intrigued by the fact that these trapeze artists would often perform additional tricks after landing on the safety net thanks to the elasticity provided by the netting. After watching the acrobats repeat this over and over, George concluded that he could utilize this to help improve his tumbling training. He thought back to his childhood idea of designing an apparatus similar to this net and the birth of the trampoline began.
In 1934, George Nissen and his coach, Larry Griswold, created a rig made of welded angled iron, a canvas bed, and rubber springs. George used it to aid in his tumbling training and entertain children during various summer camp programs. After graduating from college, George and a few friends toured the united States and Mexico performing at carnivals and fairs for children and adults. While in Mexico, George heard some audience members mention the word Trampolin, which meant springboard in Spanish, and decided to use it as the name for his bouncing apparatus. He built a few more prototype Trampolines and performed in various promotional tours and performances. The sales of his trampoline product gradually increased and in 1941, he and Griswold set up the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Throughout the years, George Nissen spent his time growing his business and spreading awareness of the trampoline. He eventually set up trampoline manufacturing facilities in England with the help of Ted Blake (his English counterpart in the creation of the modern trampoline). By the end of the 1970’s competition for production of the trampoline became quite fierce. Despite the fact that George had himself trademarked the name Trampoline, it gradually became the standard word for the rebounding apparatus by all competing companies. George Nissen’s company ceased operations in the 1980s.
That is not the end of his story, though. In 1971 he founded The United States Tumbling & Trampoline Association (USTA) with Larry Griswold. Since then, George has been honoured by the governing bodies of both trampolining and gymnastics. Various trampoline awards and competitions have been named in his honor such as the Griswold-Nissen Cup for an outstanding trampolinist, The Nissen Cup held in Switzerland, and The Nissen-Emery Award which is given to the best male senior gymnast in the College gymnastics/trampoline system. George went on to create “Spaceball”, which was his pet love which involved a form of volleyball staged on trampolines. Nissen remained involved in the trampoline manufacturing business making trampolines for exercise, and briefly for his Spaceball sport. But his true desire lay elsewhere.
George Nissens dream was to have trampolining included in the summer Olympic Games. Finally, in the year 2000 during the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Trampolining made its debut as an Olympic sport. George Nissen, the inventor of the modern trampoline, was invited to Beijing to watch the trampoline event at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In recognition of his contributions to the modern day sport, George was given the honor of testing out the Olympic trampoline before the event.
George Nissen passed away on April 7th, 2010 at the age of 96 from complications from pneumonia.
Gone, but never forgotten. Without George, trampolining would not exist today. Every bounce we take, every flip we perform, and every medal handed out in the olympics is thanks to him.
Happy Birthday George!