Monday, 19 March 2012

Hopping Its Way Into History - The Spacehopper!
Many people of my generation will remember having great fun on a Space Hopper when the inflatable orange balls made their debut in the late 1960s. With horns for handles, they were like huge rubber satsumas that you simply sat on, and bounced up and down. Also known as Hoppity Hops, Hop Balls and Kangaroo Balls, they became extremely popular - but actually served no purpose whatsoever.
TV adverts prior to their arrival promised some sort of wonder device that would see the end of cars and bicycles as a means of transport. From now on, you could just sit on your Space Hopper and bounce off to school or race your friends around the block with hardly any physical effort.

The space hopper was invented by Aquilino Cosani of Ledragomma, an Italian company that manufactured toy rubber balls. He patented the idea in Italy in 1968, and in the United States in 1971. Cosani called the toy PON-PON. Space hoppers were introduced to the UK in 1969 — the Cambridge Evening News newspaper, England, contained an advertisement for the hopper in November of that year and described it as a "trend". Although in practical terms they served absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever (in that they didn’t allow the user to go faster, bounce higher, or run further than they could on foot), nevertheless they became a major craze during the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The original UK space hopper was manufactured by Mettoy (Mettoy-Corgi). Wembley made a similar model which had smooth handles rather than the ribbed original. The orange kangaroo design is now available in adult-sized versions in the UK. In the United States, the first mass-marketed hopping ball (a version of an earlier European toy was the Hoppity Hop, released by the Sun company around 1968. Because of the market and media saturation by this toy, any such ball — regardless of origin — is now generally known in the U.S. by that name (or sometimes "hippity hop"). The earliest HHs were made of rubber (usually red or blue) with a round ring handle on top and automotive tire valve for inflation. In the 1970s Sun introduced various character versions of the HH, such as the Hoppity Horse, Disney's Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (with hard plastic versions of the character's head attached to the ball).
The HH sold rather steadily for decades, but by the 1990s sales apparently started to slip due to increased competition from foreign hoppers. At some point the HH came to be made of a vinyl-like material, some molded in fluorescent colors. The Hoppity Hop now appears to have been discontinued, but the original — sometimes still in the box — comes up from time to time on online auction sites. It is interesting to note that the Hoppity Hop's original targets (according to advertising materials) were adults as well as kids. Since the balls only inflated to around 20", however, it's doubtful any but the shortest hop-minded adults could have gotten much use out of one. Today, numerous (usually Chinese) versions can be found in most stores, ranging anywhere from 16" to 24".
The European Hop! balls appeared in the early 1990s and are still available. Made by Italy's Ledragomma/Ledraplastic, these are essentially the quality Gymnic exercise ball with a handle attached. The sizes of these balls range from the Hop! 45 to the Hop! 66 (66 cm, about 26"). While it is still is used for fun and exercise by many adults, the Hop! 66 is still borderline child-sized. So demand for truly adult-proportioned hopping balls was met with two notable items. The first of these was Kitt 2000 Velp of the Netherlands Mega Skippyballs, a huge hopping ball which by virtue of its size was intended only for adult use. There were three sizes: 120 cm, 100 cm and 80 cm. The Mega Skippyballs are made of extra strong vinyl, and in the Netherlands there are various Skippyball races and Skippyball championships.

Of course they didn't allow you to go faster, or run further than you could on foot.
But you didn't question them, because they looked cool and you had to have one.
For much of the early 70s, children grew very attached to their orange Hoppers, and spent hours bouncing up and down busy roads. After 10 bounces they were either still in the same spot, had developed a headache, or fell off and grazed their knees. Some Space Hoppers also occasionally burst - not an easy task unless they were incredibly over-inflated.

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