Aug 03, 2023

Trivially Speaking: Strapping adventurers popularized bungee cords

Professional movers have their means: large trucks, dollies, padding, clear packaging​, rolls of packing tape, etc. Amateur movers — such as my friends — have their ways.

Ways and means don’t always come t​ogether, an example being congressional committees.

Thus,​ when my friends helped me move items from Stately Willard Manor to Stately Willard​ Manor 2.0 we had items of various sizes, shapes and weights (something like a football roster but perhaps smarter).

To ascertain that we kept all the bales on the wagon (so to speak)​ we had to secure them. That allows me to segue to the subject of today’s column, bungee​ cords.

Pickup owners have them in many sizes and lengths so on the mile and a half move to​ our new location we didn’t lose a single item (as far as I know).

The development of bungee cords stretches for centuries; let me see if I can tie it all together.

Going back a few​ millennia or so, we note that nomads had to secure their possessions on sledges or travois​ to keep them from sliding off the carrier on their journeys.

Sadly, they just had strips of​ animal gut for fasteners and wished for something similar to bungee cords.

Alas, the first hint​ of a bungee​-​like application didn’t occur until about 500 A.D. That was the period during​ which young men of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu began a tradition of testing their manhood​ by tying springy vines to their ankles and jumping from tall platforms.

They intentionally hit the ground — fortunate that didn’t carry into our century​, yielding even more dense young men — supposedly cushioned by the vines to prevent brain damage (at least that’s what some​ of them remembered). This is the first known incident of (intentional) daring using stretchy​ materials, which could result in injury.

Nothing of note (relative to bungee possibilities) occurred until a Brit using Frenchman Charles Moore de la Cardamine​’s invention of rubber​ developed the rubber band in 1845.

Around that time the word “bungee” appeared in the​ West Country dialect of the English language; it meant “Anything thick and squat.”

Uses of​ the product bounced around until it snapped back into usage by English pilots in 1936 to​ launch their gliders off hillsides using giant elastic cords.

For some unexplained reason the​ pilots used the name “bungee” for their cords.

The Second World War saw expanded use of bungee cords for fastening and holding equipment to assorted vehicles. So, returning soldiers​ brought the concept home with them.

This translated to expanded use among campers, movers and construction workers — none of whom jumped off high structures on the end of their industrial bungees.

That was left to Simon Keeling and David Kirke. They were​ members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club. In 1979, after discussing the​ Pentecost Island vine jumping (“the evil men do lives after them …”) they decided to jump from the 250-foot high Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England.

They ​survived​ and were arrested​ shortly after​, but were not discouraged and subsequently jumped off the​ Golden ​Gate Bridge and the Royal Gorge Bridge.

The first to exploit the commercial opportunities afforded by bungee jumping was New Zealander A.J. Hackett. He made his​ first jump from Auckland’s Greenhithe Bridge in 1986. He followed that by jumping from other bridges and structures including the Eiffel Tower (not approved by the French).

He​ was attempting to build public interest in the sport(?).

He was successful enough to open the planet’s first permanent commercial bungee site,​ the Kawarau Bridge Bungy (the Kiwis spelled it differently) at the Kawarau Gorge​ Suspension Bridge near Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.

Hackett remains​ one of the largest commercial operators, bouncing into several countries.

My son-in-law — normal​-appearing from most other observations — jumped from the Kawarau site on our​ excursion to New Zealand and fortunately for us, came out of it exhilarated.

The key in​ successful bungee jumping is to have a cord (stretched) shorter than the distance to the​ impact – even water at an impact from several hundred feet is not fun.

Aside from the​ possible injuries from bungee jumping, the most common bungee injury is having the cord snap back​, causing eye injury.

Our move generated no injuries nor items falling from a​ moving pickup truck.

None of us were tempted to jump from bridges along the way; the CEO​ still needs a non-management employee to write from time-to-time.

Sign up for email newsletters