Both the Americans and the British have a claim to have invented bounce houses. The British claim is circumstantial.
Invention of Inflatable Moonwalks
In 1962 John Scurlock was experimenting with inflatable solutions for tennis court covers, swimming pools, and other enclosures. He noticed that employees had fun walking on the inflatables. The loss and refilling of air made them bouncy and the employees kept flopping and jumping on them and having a great time. Scurlock decided to create a kid’s amusement bouncer and started the first inflatable moonwalk business, Space Walk. At the time, the devices were referred to as Moon Walks, although many different terms to describe them have since come into use.
He started out with a large air mattress. In 1967-1968, he decided to add walls. At that time, there were two inflatable fans, one for the mattress and one for the walls. Windows were made of clear plastic and the inflatable was enclosed like a bubble. Soon after, in 1969, animal shapes began to be made. In 1976 they introduced the Jupiter Jump, which was the first unit to support netting. It was round and shaped like a liberty bell. The first bounce houses shaped like characters started appearing in the late 70’s.
Moonwalk Rental Companies
Frances Scurlock (John’s wife) started the first inflatable rental company. People began to call asking to use the inflatables, so Frances started renting them. In 1969, she charged $19.95 for 24 hours.
To begin with, people bought inflatable moonwalks only for fairs and carnivals because their cost was prohibitive. Festivals are now a secondary market, and the home and event rental of moonwalks are the dominant use.
Invention of Bouncy Castles
A bouncy castle (also known as an inflatable castle or, in the US, a moonwalk) is an inflatable edifice, traditionally mimicking the appearance of a castle. It is used for entertainment, typically by young children. Participants enter the structure, usually situated outdoors, and can jump about on the springy walls and floor of the interior, bouncing about rather like on a trampoline. We often hear children frequently referring to them as jumping castles, regardless of whether they actually have a castle shape.
The bouncy castle was originally designed by university students in England around 1961 for a fundraising event. Bouncy castles are now available not only in castle shapes, but also in many others including popular cartoon, movie and childrens’ book characters. New variations on the general design have resulted in inflatable slides, interactive games and climbing walls. The variety of shapes has made them popular with some installation artists.
The surfaces of bounce houses are typically composed of thick, reinforced PVC and nylon, and the castle is inflated using an electrical or petrol (gasoline) powered fan, known as a blower.
Was it the Americans or the British?
We think both claims have credibility. Convergence in invention is not uncommon: examples abound in early aviation and electronics, and even the telephone had competing claims for its invention.
Despite the present similarities between moonwalks and bouncy castles, they could easily have had different origins about the same time. Evidence for the British claim is circumstantial, but the general popularity of the castle shape, combined with the proliferation of such bounce houses in Britain seems significant. Britain, of course, is full of castles. If the invention were solely American, a house shape would seem more likely than a castle.
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