Bongo Board, 1950's-1970's

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    photos © 2008 David Maisel

 

   

 

                                

The Bongo Board was invented in 1952 by Stanley Washburn, Jr. (1908-2005) and

manufactured by his Bongo Corporation in New York City.  It came in two sizes, the

slightly bigger of which is in the above photos.  In 1956 Washburn was issued patent

2,764,411 for it by the U.S. Patent Office.  Click here or here or here for the drawings

of its design that he submitted in 1953 with the filing for a patent for a "roller board

device."  Click here or here or here for the text of the patent filing that he submitted

(his description of his invention's structure, operation and purposes). 

In World War II Washburn was a cargo pilot in the U.S. Army's Air Transport Command. 

After the war he was the system promotion director of Pan American World Airways. 

He got the basic idea for his later invention in 1942, when his military plane was

grounded in the Gold Coast (the British colony in Africa that is now Ghana), where he

saw children balancing on a plank atop a log (in some reports) or a plank atop an

uprooted tree trunk (in other reports).  On a dare, he took a turn and elicited howls of

glee from those children when, upon mounting the board, he immediately fell on his

back, which was the end of his attempt. Later in the war, he saw children balance on

such equipment in India when he flew there. 

Those African and Indian designs lacked the Bongo Board's transverse track and

end-stops, the two features that Washburn added to make the board controllable by a

non-expert.  What prompted him to create his version of a balance board in December,

1952 was his ten-year-old daughter's request for a Christmas present that no one else

had ever had.

These and other details of the Bongo Board's origin are in a short article by Washburn

in BRITISH SKI YEARBOOK 1956, which was reprinted in Washburn's 2001 book,

FACTS, FABLES AND FRENZY ON LAND, SEA AND AIR (pub. Pentland Press).

Video of a 1950's newsreel of the Bongo Board, from Internet Archive:

It was probably no accident that the person who would become the inventor of the first

rolling balance board safe enough to ride was an airline executive and World War II pilot. 

Someone with those two kinds of professional experience would be keenly aware of and

interested in the precariousness and improvability of humans' sense of balance.  Flyers'

balance problems are described and explained in the "'Ear Deaths' and 'Graveyard Spirals'"

chapter of the book BALANCE: IN SEARCH OF THE LOST SENSE by Scott McCredie

(published in 2007 by Little, Brown).  Click here for a relevant paragraph from that chapter

and some context.

Born in Minneapolis, Washburn graduated from Yale in 1931.

A Bongo Board appeared in the centerfold photo of the August 1967 issue of Playboy

Magazine.  The earliest published mentions of the Bongo Board that I have found are the

200-word article "This Game Is Tough" in the October 25, 1953 issue of Parade Magazine

(the syndicated supplement to Sunday newspapers) and the 350-word article "Bongo Board

Causes Stir" in the November 1953 issue of Ski Magazine (published then in Norwich,

Vermont and now in Boulder, Colorado). The three photos in the Parade Magazine article

seem to be from the set of the Garry Moore Show (the CBS Television variety show).  One

of them includes Washburn, who is seen showing the board to Moore.  The Ski Magazine

article's photo appears below this paragraph, by permission of Ski Magazine, a division of

Warren Miller Entertainment.

After the Bongo Board,

1950's to now:

A Guide to Balance Boards That Roll is a text that includes information about 50

models that are current (as of 2008) and the URL of each model's manufacturer.

Wikipedia's "Balance board" article has information about boards that roll and

ones that rock or wobble without rolling.

Click here for the drawings of 8 patented balance-board designs that were submitted

to the U.S. Patent Office and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between 1955 and 1989. 

Maybe they all will eventually be produced! 

I don't know who made that compilation of the patent drawings of those 8 designs or

what website the compilation was presented at.

21 U.S. patents that cite Washburn's Bongo Board patent are listed, with a short descrip-

tion of the design of each of the 21, at the Free Patents Online website.  (The 21 designs

were submitted to the patent office between 1957 and 2007.)  To see that list, type the

number of Washburn's patent (which is 2,764,411) in the Search box at that website,

then click "Roller board device" in the resulting page, then click "View patents that cite

this patent" to the right of "Referenced by:" in the next resulting page.  To see the full

description by the inventor of any of the 21 designs, click that design's entry in the list. 

To see the drawings of the 21 designs, either create an account (for free) at that website

or go to the Patent Number Search page of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, whose

homepage's URL is http://www.uspto.gov. 

Almost all models that came after the Bongo Board, whether patented or not, are better

than the Bongo Board, either because they have new features or because they are more

responsive to the shifts of a rider's weight.

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Copyright 2008 David Maisel

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