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Trampoline Inventor George Nissen Passes Away
(18 votes, average 4.78 out of 5)

American gymnastics legend George Nissen passed away on April 7 in San Diego from complications from pneumonia. He was 96.

Born Feb. 1, 1914, in Blairstown, Iowa, Nissen was a gymnast at the University of Iowa. After seeing the safety nets that protected circus trapeze artists, Nissen thought a smaller version could help him with his tumbling training.

In the 1930s, he and Larry Griswold, his coach at Iowa, built the first trampoline in a garage. In 1941, the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company was housed under a bigger roof in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

During World War II the trampoline was used to train pilots. After the war, Nissen continued to promote the trampoline and he also manufactured a complete line of gymnastics apparatus. "Leapin' Larry" Griswold became a successful entertainer with his trampoline act.

Nissen, who trademarked the name "trampoline" from the Spanish word trampolin (meaning "springboard"), took his portable bouncing device all over the world. (The activity was actually called "rebound tumbling" at the time.) He even gave Russia its first trampoline in the 1950s.

The first world championships were won by Americans Dan Millman and Judy Wills, in 1964 in London. Wills won the next four women's titles, and Americans won the next four men's titles, as well.

Nissen continued to promote the trampoline worldwide, and one of his biggest goals was to see it become an Olympic sport. His friends told him he was dreaming. "They said, 'George, it will be the year 2000 before trampoline is ever in the Olympics,'" Nissen told IG 10 years ago.

They may have been joking, but they also proved prophetic. Trampoline indeed became an Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Games, and Nissen proudly made the long trip Down Under. He was even invited to take a ceremonial bounce on the official trampoline used in the competition.

Ironically, Russian athletes won the first Olympic men's and women's gold medals, thanks to Nissen's unselfish promotion half a century earlier. (In the U.S., trampoline had been dropped from NCAA competition in 1970, but the sport is now on an upswing in private clubs.)

Nissen's name will certainly live on. The Nissen Cup is an annual competition in Switzerland, and since 1966 the Nissen Award (now called the Nissen-Emery Award) has been given to the top male senior collegiate gymnast.

"I met George when I was a 12-year-old, just learning the rudiments of jumping on the trampoline," said Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior. "He was then, and remained, a role model for me all these years. His achievements are many, but what I most remember is what a kind man he was. Along with all who knew him, I'll miss him, but he will live long in our hearts and memories."

Nissen is survived by his wife, Annie, and two daughters, Dagmar and Dian.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Comments (21)add comment

Sam Bailie said:

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George Nissen
George was great for the sport of Gymnastics, and a great friend when I was a gymnast at the University of Iowa. We need more like George to keep our sport great. We loved you and you will be greatly missed. Sam Bailie
 
April 09, 2010
Votes: +8

shaun kempton said:

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George Nissen
My he continue to jump on the big trampoline in the sky. Thank you Mr Nissen thank you!
 
April 09, 2010
Votes: +4

Terry Stillions said:

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A familiy remembering...
Sad news, we were all close to George. John Stillions, Sr., cousin, worked for George and traveled the world promoting and demonstrating Space Ball, if you are old enough to remember. John also came back to Cedar Rapids to run one of the first "all sports" sport centers focusing on Gymnastics and Tennis. John and his son John, Jr. also had a love for table tennis (ping-pong) where J jr. became a world champion in three age brackets, traveled to China, went to Jefferson HS, traded his paddles for tennis rackets, went to State and shortly after died in a tragic accident delivering repaired TV's for his Gramps.
I believe I can speak for the Stillions family in saying how saddened we are at the news of George's passing and how much there is to celebrate about his life and how much he meant to our family.

Such a remarkable man, George Nissen will be honored and remembered for many years beyond his time.
 
April 09, 2010
Votes: -2

Deb Allison said:

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...
I have so many memories of George. He had a warm personality and that mischievous grin. Growing up in Cedar Rapids, I worked gymnastics meets as a teen-ager escorting teams to events and still have one of the Amana blankets he gave us as a thank you. He was a very generous contributor to Sokol Cedar Rapids - the gym I belonged to. At the World Championships in 1991 he and Glen Sundby having a handstand contest, but one of my favorite memories was in 1992 he was at an awards banquet during the USAG Congress. We were in a room full of Olympians and their coaches. George was given an award as after his acceptance speech in true George fashion, he grabbed the step (used for smaller gymnast to reach the microphone), pulled it to the side and pressed a handstand. One of the coaches behind me and made the comment he wished he could teach all his gymnasts to do a handstand that well. As George came back to the table he was at with his daughter Dian, he asked me if he held his handstand long enough. My comment was "Yes George, you did very well".
My heart goes out to Annie, Dagmar, and Dian. George will be missed.
 
April 10, 2010
Votes: +0

Paul Kyprie said:

0
George had a huge influence of my life and career.
George and Larry were such wonderful people and they took me under their wing. I had competed in High School and College and after graduation I got an offer to do Trampoline shows professionally. Nissen was the sponsor and Larry Griswold gave me many tips on comedy. I am still in show business today although too old to do the trampoline. RIP
 
April 11, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

Dennis Harlan said:

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...
Thanks George. The trampoline changed my life and you inspired me. Your spirit will never die. It lives in all those that you inspired. Rest well.
 
April 11, 2010
Votes: +1

Dale Hardt said:

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...
I offer my condolences to the Nissen family. I am currently at a gymnastics meet in Kansas City almost concluding my 42nd. year as a coach and some 40 years after my last competitive meet on trampoline...all because Mr. Griswold and Mr. Nissen got together in the 1930's and built a trampoline in a garage...The debt many of owe to these two is greater than most can comprehend. Rest well Mr. Nissen and thank you for your gift. I will do a sommersault on one of my four trampolines for you when I get home to our gym.
 
April 11, 2010 | url
Votes: +2

Dan Millman said:

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First World Trampoline Champion, Former Stanford Gymnastics Coach, author-speaker
When I was 12 years old, I was introduced to George Nissen by his old friend (and my first trampoline coach) Xavier Leonard. I held George in awe then, and he continued to serve as a role model through the years. Of all his considerable achievements as an engineer with over 100 patents for new inventions, the quality that I most admired was his kindness. He lived a creative and productive life as a loving husband to his wife of many years, Annie, and was a good father. Most of us look to worldly achievements as the measure of a person, but I look to deeper roots of character and quality. George was a modest giant among us, and the ripples of who he was will live on in all of us fortunate enough to have known him. He has passed into memory, but will remain a presence in many lives for generations to come.
 
April 11, 2010 | url
Votes: +2

Ulf Andersson said:

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Geroge
What Mr. Dale Hardt wrote before is a very good summary: Rest well Mr. Nissen and thank you for your Gift (it gave us an not only an apparatus, but a Sport and an Olympic Dream). Many of of us owe you a lot, A LOT!
 
April 12, 2010
Votes: +0

barbara gregorio said:

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tennis comm. "Sr. Olympics"
I'll miss george & his amazing talent & physical dexterity.

he enriched the sports world.

my sympathy to dian barbara gregorio
 
April 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Larry Lindauer said:

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...
Well said Dale, if not for George Nissen touching so many lives, our lives would not have been nearly so full. He will me missed by all who know his name and the wonderful things he did.
 
April 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Bobbbbbbby said:

April 13, 2010
Votes: -1

Bill Farley said:

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...
RIP Mr. Nissen. Funeral arrangements are still up in the air.
 
April 14, 2010
Votes: -1

Ben Byrne said:

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...
RIP George Nissen. You touched a lot of peoples lives with your kindness and your wonderful invention. You will be greatly missed.
 
April 15, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

Amy said:

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...
Thanks George, for inspiring, for creative wisdom and generous nature. I have fond memories of playing as a kid on the SpaceBall invention in the Iowa factory where my dad worked with George Nissen. Much deep respect for a man who shaped my, and my familys' and many others' lives. Bounce on!smilies/wink.gif
 
April 16, 2010
Votes: +1

BRENT WENDELL WILLIAMS said:

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FORMER NCAA GYMNAST/TRAMPOLINIST AT SIU-64-67 & PRESENTLY ACTOR/PARTNER OF FILM COMPANY IN HOLLYWOOD
Heartfelt love to George's Family! But how lucky & blessed you were to have had such an amazing man in your lives! And how lucky were all of us who had known him! He did so much to inspire all of us & not only the trampoline but gymnastics -Worldwide! I got the privilege to work with George along with Ronnie Munn & Ed Cole after college traveling for 2yrs in the Midwest performing over 500-shows promoting Nissen & Spaceball-so Much fun! Whenever I would visit the factory, George would greet me with that big enthusiastic smile & have to show me his latest invention he was working on! We would all play like kids in his showroom Gym for hours! That really was his secret to Life-Living each day to the fullest & reaching out to touch so many..Like only George could do! He surely made me see all things really are possible..if you believe! How grateful & blessed I am to have had a George Nissen in my life..he inspired me to believe & enjoy life to the fullest! Thankyou Mr. Nissen..& I look forward playing you a game of "Eternal Spaceball" with My good buddy -Frank Schmitz..on the other side!
 
April 16, 2010 | url
Votes: +1

Don Uffelman said:

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...
George touched more lives that we can possibly count through his trampoline including modern divers and gymnasts who could perfect the mechanics of sommersaulting and twisting with the "air time" it provided. His company made quality equipment that was the state of the art when I was a Hawkeye gymnast helping the sport progress rapidly. George even had the time to talk to and encourage me when I was in college. God bless you George and get them bouncing in heaven.
 
April 17, 2010
Votes: +1

Jack Leonard said:

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Head coach
I remember George as a very giving man. He gave us opportunities to learn new elements through the trampolines he invented. George also made us smile and laugh with his ongoing antics and continual love of the sport. It is so great he got to see his dream of trampoline in the Olympics. We will all miss you sooo much.
 
April 20, 2010 | url
Votes: +1

Aaron Johnson said:

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Office coaching
George was a gentle giant. I remember jumping in the Cedar Rapids plant with Dian, Eddie and others and seeing George in the office window that overlooked the gym. I will miss him. Best wishes to Dian and the entire family.
 
April 24, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

Ron Munn said:

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George was the fiber for my life. I truly miss him and always will.
 
September 19, 2010
Votes: +0

HSA said:

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Sad to hear this. But what an exciting life and legacy.
 
November 09, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

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