History of Inflatables

In the late fifties John Scurlock was designing and researching inflatable shelters for tennis courts when he noticed his co-workers loved jumping on the covers. He was an engineer and had an interest in physics. John Scurlock designed the first inflatable structure in 1959 in Louisiana, USA. John led the way in inflatables; his greatest achievement has to be the invention of the safety air cushion that is still used by the emergency services to catch members of the public jumping from high buildings, attempting to escape from fires. Many people owe their lives to Scurlock although it is likely that most people still prefer the bouncy castle. He decided to create an "amusement bouncer" for children to play on. John started out designing a giant air mattress, and in 1967 he decided to add walls. The original designs were all enclosed in a bubble, and contained clear plastic windows. Soon after animal shapes began to appear, leading the way for towards a myriad of designs, including the ubiquitous bouncy castle.

John's wife started the first rental company in 1969, under the names "Space Walk" and "Inflatable Zoo". The brand grew steadily, and by 1986 they had an all-inflatable theme park, named "Fun Factory". Another park was opened in '87, named "Fun Plex". Through the next decade, John's son Frank continued to develop new ideas, culminating in the creation of the first inflatable water slide in 1990. In 1978, a Brit designed the first bouncy castle with 3 walls, with the other open for entry and supervision. Unfortunately, he failed to patent the idea, and it became standard throughout the world. The British also claim that the first recreational inflatable was designed by university students in 1961, originally intended for use at a fundraising event. This claim is disputed and although they may have invented the original bouncy castle design, Scurlock certainly invented the concept of fun inflatables. No matter the conjecture surrounding the invention of bouncy castles they remain a compulsory inclusion and local fetes and fairs and are even used today for birthday parties and even weddings.

The History of Inflatable Boats - From Inflated Skins to High Performance Inflatables

The earliest use of modern inflatable boats began in the mid 1800's, but the history of inflatable boats reaches back much farther. In fact, indigenous tribes around the world have, in centuries past, attempted to use inflated animal skins or bladders to hold them up in the water. These were more like rafts than true boats, but they demonstrate the early realization that you could fill a waterproof material with air and float it on the water's surface. The earliest recorded use of inflatable boats was in 880 BC, when the king of Assyria used greased animal skins inflated with air to move his troops across a river. Other history records show that during the Ming Dynasty in China, inflated skins were used to cross rivers.

The Modern Era of Inflatable Boat History

The Duke of Wellington introduced the first real modern use of what would now be referred to as an inflatable boat. Others soon followed, but these early boats were prone to leaking and being easily punctured. In the 1840's, several army and naval officers, including Britain's Lieutenant Peter Hackett, developed inflatable boats specifically designed for use in Arctic exploration. In 1848, U.S. General George Cullum introduced an inflatable boat of rubber coated canvas that was used to some extent in the Civil War. In 1866, three men crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a three tube raft, the first trans-oceanic crossing in inflatable boat history. It proved to many that inflatable boats were sturdy, reliable and worth further development.

Vulcanized Rubber Changes History of Inflatable Boats

In the early 1900's, vulcanized rubber manufacturing took the inflatable boat to the next level. Various developments popped in countries around the world. Two significant inventions were the inflatable boats developed by the German company A. Meyer Bau Pneumatic Boote. In England and France, two different companies (Zodiac and RFD) developed modern versions of the inflatable rubber boat at the same time. Reginald Foster Dagnall, founder of RFD, is usually credited with developing and testing the precursor to today's modern life rafts. He tried it out in England around 1919. Zodiac's continuing development of inflatable rubber boats led to the use of these versatile craft by both civil and military forces. Zodiac's Pierre Debroutelle developed an unusual U-shaped design that integrated two buoyancy chambers with a wooden platform in between. This was a precursor to today's many inflatable sport and recreational boats. One of the most famous ship wrecks in history - the downing of the RMS Titanic - also demonstrated the practicality of rubber lifeboats. The high loss of life on the Titanic was due in part to an insufficient number of the wooden lifeboats then in use. Had the Titanic been equipped with inflatable rubber lifeboats, many more lives would have been saved. It wasn't until World War II, however, that ships at sea began regularly using rubber boats or life rafts.

World War II and the History of Inflatable Boats

Two developments led to the increased use of inflatable boats by the Army and Navy. First, vulcanization processes for rubber had improved greatly, and second, warfare on the seas was leading to a high number of casualties. Naval ships and even submarines began keeping inflatable rubber boats to make quick evacuation possible without taking up too much space on a ship or in a sub when not in use. By this time, most inflatable boats were actually shaped like boats, with a pointed front or keel. Inflatable boats were also used by the military for amphibious landings in shallow water and to transport cargo, gear and even torpedoes from sea vessels to the shore. Since inflatable boats could then be deflated, troops were able to carry them with them to be used again to leave a beach head if need be.

Inflatable Boats from 1950 to Today

After the war, inflatable boats continued to be used by consumers, but they were basically rafts that could be paddled or rowed. It wasn't until the 1950's, when Frenchman Alain Bombard attached an outboard motor to an inflatable boat, that these versatile boats really moved into the mainstream. One of the earliest proponents of motorized, inflatable boats was Jacques Cousteau, the famous marine biologist and diver. By the 1960's, inflatable boat history had turned with the tide. They were now amazingly popular with everyone from fishermen to speed boating enthusiasts. A variety of new and improved styles, including the V-hull, RIB and various high performance inflatables hit the market over the years, proving that these lightweight water craft can be used for almost any type of water travel. There is no doubt that the history of inflatable boats will continue to include improved manufacturing and newer, more efficient styles.