It looked like an innocent little ball, nothing so special about that. But how many ordinary balls are made of a space-age sounding material called “Zectron”? And more importantly, how many balls have the ability to leap to staggering heights with a simple toss? Only one, the oft-imitated ball of legendary status, the little rubber sphere that managed to live up to its lofty name – the Super Ball! Finally, science put its efforts into something that everyone could enjoy.
Wham-O! Toys, makers of such iconic playthings as the Hula Hoop and Frisbee, introduced the mother-of-all bouncing balls in 1965. Dubbed the Super Ball, it sounded like pure hyperbole at first, the reinventing of the wheel as it were. But there was nothing ordinary about this little globe of pent-up energy – something that became immediately apparent the first time the ball was dropped. Not only did the ball have enough bouncing energy to almost return to your hand, but if it hit something else along the way, its course was forever altered as it ricocheted from place to place without rhyme or reason. Fail to catch the little beast and you could be chasing it in circles for quite some time.
The fun really began when you put a little force into your throw. You could bounce one of these things over a house with ease (which often meant you would soon be buying another Super Ball). So, what made these balls leap with such fortitude? Well, that’s a bit of a trade secret, the result of long hours in the laboratory by a scientist named Norman Stingley. He developed a material called “Zectron”, a rubber compound that was exposed to extreme temperature and pressure. It would take years to perfect the formula to the point that the stuff was durable, but once the kinks were worked out, the result was a ball that retained almost all of its bounce-ability when dropped. Wham-O! put the toy on the market and soon the world was graced with millions of bouncing balls, stored in the pockets of practically every kid in America. Mr. Stingley’s place in history was secure, as was his financial status, thanks to the little ball that could, and did, live up to the hype.
Originally 2” in diameter, Wham-O! later introduced the Mini-Super Ball, just as powerful but less than half the size, and games such as Super Ball Baseball and Super Ball Golf soon followed. It seemed that the Super Ball was virtually invincible. But, like all toys, they would eventually fall out of favor. For all of the amazing qualities that a Super Ball possessed, they were not indestructible. With enough use, they would chip and eventually lose their astounding ability. And like any amazing invention, it was only a matter of time before a whole host of less-amazing imitators showed up on the scene, none of which had the bouncing power of the original. Millions of kids dropped a dime or a quarter into supermarket vending machines only to unknowingly receive a rubber ball that simply paled in comparison, and sullied the reputation, of the original.
Perhaps to remind the world of who is the daddy of all balls super, Wham-O! finally re-introduced the hallowed Super Ball in 1998 – once again turning any room into a three-dimensional pinball game, and sending people ducking for cover. We owe all this fun to the wonders of scientific discovery. And while curing diseases and creating alternate fuel sources are all noble endeavors, let’s hope that the brains of the world will always continue to set a little time aside for inventing the important stuff as well – stuff like the ever-amazing Super Ball.
If you have any Super Ball memories you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them in our comments section. Tell us about all of the feats your Super Ball performed, as we fondly recall this extraordinary toy.