Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

We’ve seen it everywhere and taken it for granted, but yes: someone did invent that stretch of canvas you see at the circus.

And word came this week that he has bounced to that Big Top in the sky:

13nissen_CA0-popup.jpgOne by one, the trapeze artists topped off their routines by dropping from their high-swinging bars into the net stretched below, then rebounding into somersaults — to the roar of the crowd at the traveling circus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And one kid in the stands began to wonder: Hey, what if there was a contraption that made it possible to keep on bouncing and flipping?

George Nissen, 16, who was a member of the gymnastics and diving teams at his high school, was soon tinkering in his parents’ garage, strapping together a rectangular steel frame and a canvas sheet. Even though it was not quite as springy as he had hoped, he called it a bouncing rig. That was in 1930.

It would be several years later, while a business major at the University of Iowa, that Mr. Nissen and his gymnastics coach, Larry Griswold, would work together to make a more flexible contraption with a nylon sheet. They still called it a bouncing rig.

Then, in 1937, Mr. Nissen and two friends formed a traveling acrobatics act called the Three Leonardos and began performing throughout the Midwest and Texas and then in Mexico. It was there that he heard the Spanish word for diving board: el trampolin.

He added an “e” and registered “Trampoline” as a trademark for what has become a joy-inducing device for backyard tumblers, fitness freaks and, since 2000, Olympic athletes.

Mr. Nissen, who devoted his life to promoting and manufacturing the trampoline — once renting a kangaroo to bounce with him in Central Park — died Wednesday at a hospital near his home in San Diego. He was 96. His son-in-law Ron Munn confirmed the death.

Dwight Normile, the editor of International Gymnast magazine, said of Mr. Nissen in a telephone interview on Friday: “He took the device all over the world and gave them as gifts. He wanted everybody to know about the health benefits of bouncing on a trampoline.”

Ten years ago, Mr. Nissen spoke of his enduring goal to see trampolining become an Olympic sport. For years, his friends told him he was just dreaming.

“They said, ‘George, it will be the year 2000 before trampoline is ever in the Olympics,’ ” Mr. Nissen said in an interview with International Gymnast.

They were right. “He was at those Sydney Olympics in 2000, 86 years old at the time,” Mr. Normile said, “and they actually invited him to bounce on the official trampoline.”

Find out more about the highs and lows of his life at the link.

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