Anyone who has ever been a child – yes, that includes you – is no stranger to the terror of playing catch. Some hard substance stitched up in animal skin blazing toward your face. Never mind that in most cases the fear was easy to eventually overcome, it was no fun to face it the first time, especially with pre-adolescent motor skills. Enter the Koosh Ball…
Scott Stillinger recognized that very fear in his five and eight year old children and set about to solving the problem. His invention was a cluster of rubber bands tied together that were easy for his kids to catch without fear of getting thwacked in the gourd. Scott joined forces with Mark Button, his brother-in-law and a former marketing manager with Mattel and formed OddzOn Products Inc. Their initial product was the Koosh Ball in 1987, modeled after Stillinger’s rubber band ball and named in the onomatopoeic spirit. The Koosh Ball featured over two thousand individual strands of rubber protruding from a gelatin filled center.
By the next year, Koosh Balls had become one of the top selling Christmas toys in the nation. As inevitably follows the success of any product, spin-offs and tie-ins quickly followed. Koosh Kins gave cartoon limbs and faces to the toy line while marketing gurus put familiar faces such as Scooby-Doo and Rugrats on them. Soon, toys were developed to complement different kinds of Koosh related games. Koosh Catchers helped to wrangle Koosh Balls launched by Koosh FlingShots. A graduate student at MIT actually created the game of Koosh, the point of which is to use fabric rackets to keep a Koosh Ball airborne for as long as possible.
Before long, Koosh had branched off into various divisions such as the Koosh Cosmic Club, who focused on creating Koosh jewelry for tweens. Multi-colored Koosh Horoscope Balls came out, putting a rubber soft spin on the idea of mood rings. Some people made trips to Vegas or the race track with the company of a Good Luck Koosh. Even Rosie O’Donnell, during the run of her daytime talk show, used to give Koosh Balls away as part of her act.
The longevity of Koosh toys soon had other companies manufacturing their own miniature versions and selling them in dime stores, toy dispensers, arcades, and anywhere else where knick-knacks could be found. While sales of Koosh Balls have trailed off in the past few years, they still remain a favorite stocking stuffer, tension reliever, armchair companion, and above all, “training wheels” of a sort for a game of catch.
If you have some fond memories of playing with a Koosh ball, we’d love to hear about it in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this innovative toy.