facts about the invention
of Super Ball by Norman Stingley in 1965.
Wham-O Manufacturing Co., the miracle-working maker of the
Hula Hoop ® and Frisbee ® disc, bounced back into the news in 1965 with an explosive knob of
rubber called Super Ball.® Dropped from shoulder level, a high potency Super Ball ® snapped nearly all the way back; thrown down, it could leap over a
three-story building; flung into a wall with spin, it kicked back with remarkable reverse
English. The supercharged sphere, about the size and color of a plum, was America's most
popular plaything in the summer and fall of 1965. By Christmas, just six months after it
was introduced by Wham-O ®, seven million
balls had been sold at ninety-eight cents apiece.
Proud father of the bouncing baby ball was a California
chemist named Norman Stingley. In his spare time, he compressed a synthetic rubber
material under 3,500 pounds of pressure per square inch and created a ball with
||Stingley offered it to his employer,
Bettis Rubber Company, of Whittier, California, but was turned down. Since the rubber
hardpack tended to fall apart quickly, it was feared the product would never be
But Wham-O ®, a company with a reputation for taking brilliant ideas off the
street (the Frisbee ® was freelanced to
the firm by a carpenter), agreed to work with Stingley on his idea. For several months
they sought a more durable substance and finally concocted a ball that stood up under
normal use, although it still lost large chunks when smashed against rough surfaces.
|With imperfections whittled
away, the Super Ball ® was bounced for
glory, a sensation waiting to happen. An old hand at marketing crazes, Wham-O ® gave the bulletized balls a big promotional send-off and they
caught on right away. Adolescent boys and girls discovered them first, but grown-ups were
soon buying them, too.
Uses were many and varied.
Super Balls ® were bounced over rooftops,
dribbled by skateboarders, ricocheted around adjoining surfaces and used Superballing the
Jacks. The tightly compacted, high friction ball could also be spun into a wall in such a
way that it would bounce back at the barrier repeatedly. Accomplished Super Ballplayers
would make the self-perpetuating rubber missile hammer itself into a wall four or five
times. Long lobbing covered entire city blocks, as the balls ate up the distance with
kangaroo-like bounds, and seemed to gather momentum as they skipped along the street. Kids
also took up baseball bats and entertained Ruthian fantasies by hitting sub-orbital shots.
Juvenile games were inevitable, but adults thought up ways
of using Super Balls ®, too. At the
workplace they were vaulted over rows of office desktops, sent hopping down corridors, and
dropped onto sidewalks and parking lots from windows several stories high. Competitors
tried depositing them into far-off wastebaskets with one strategic bounce. Presidential
aide McGeorge Bundy had five dozen shipped to the White House for the amusement of
staffers. At the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, traders relieved tension by propelling them
across the floor.
Super Balls ®
encouraged wholesome, boyish, childhood-revisited kind of fun. The only thing to fear was
the sphere itself. The ball was so resilient and picked up so much reverse spin that it
didn't catch easily. After slamming one into a wall you might have to duck or be struck.
Black eyes and welts, about the circumference of a Super Ball ® were common to the fad, but were not enough to dampen enthusiasm.
oft-repeated claim was that the ball had 92 percent resiliency - - about three times that
of a tennis ball - - and would bounce on for about a minute after being dropped from a
short distance. The synthetic used to make the ball spring eternal was dubbed Zectron ® by Stingley, and there were rumors that it was made from an exotic
fruit grown by crossing an East Indian rubber plant with an Outer Mongolian plum tree. A
likable, if unlikely story; when Stingley's patent was issued in March 1966, it revealed a
less colorful formula. The primary element was polybutadiene, with smaller amounts of
sulfur to reinforce the material and serve as a vulcanizing agent. According to the
patent, the ball was molded under some one thousand pounds of pressure per square inch at
a temperature of about 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
The balls were also red hot in the marketplace and pressure
from retailers was intense. Output at Wham-O's ® San
Gabriel, California plant and four other factories contracted to turn them out grew to one
hundred seventy thousand a day by mid-November.The appeal lasted well into 1966, although
adults and kids eventually let loose of the fad. Meanwhile, there were few original Super
Balls ® left for posterity since most
were eventually chipped into oblivion.
Toys from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Stories Behind Some Great Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson, Laurie Keller / Hardcover - 128 pages (2000) / Henry
Holt & Company
The quirky tales behind more than two dozen novelties, gadgets and games, from seesaws to
Silly Putty and toy soldiers to Trivial Pursuit.
Fads (This title is out of print.)
by Richard A. Johnson / Paperback William Morrow
& Co; (1985) / ISBN: 0688049036
ON THE WEB:
Official SuperBall Web sitepresented by Wham-o. Not much information.
® Super Ball ® - - History
Yet no one who ever owned a Super Ball ® has forgotten the greatest bouncer of all time.
No ball in history ever behaved like the Super Ball ® and none ever sold like it.
Super Ball Patent
Patent # 3,241,834 issoed March 22, 1966 for HIGHLY RESILIENT POLYBUTADIENE BALL. Inventor
Norman H. Stingley, Garden Grove, Calif., assignor to Wham-O Manufacturing Company, San
Gabriel, Calif., a corporation of California
- No one who ever owned a Super Ball ® has forgotten the greatest bouncer of all time.
- No ball in history ever behaved like the Super Ball ® and none ever sold like it.
- But what few folks may know is the fact that the Super Ball
ended up becoming the idea for the term "Super Bowl." The first two contests
between the NFL and the AFL were labeled the "World Championship Game." After
the second such contest, the owners were sitting around trying to come up with a snappier
name when Lamar Hunt, the guiding light of the American Football League, and the owner of
the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, remembered watching his daughter play with a high-bouncing
Super Ball a few days earlier and 'ball' morphed into 'bowl. 'Voila...Super Bowl!
|Super Ball ® is a
brand name and registered trademarks of Wham-O Incorporated,
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised March, 2005.
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