“Stop throwing that ball around in the house! You’re going to break something!”
How many of us heard that sound repeatedly by our impatient mothers? it was enough to make mom go for another cigarette, the stress of worrying about her good lamps!
On July 3, 1929, Dunlop Latex Development Laboratories created the first foam rubber. Why it took another 41 years for someone to figure out that it would make for a great indoor ball is beyond me.
The Nerf ball’s history is short and sweet enough. According to the Parker Brothers website:
In 1969, a games inventor came to the company with a volleyball game that was safe for indoor play. After studying the game carefully, PARKER BROTHERS executives decided to eliminate everything but the foam ball. In 1970 the NERF Ball was introduced as the “world’s first official indoor ball.” It didn’t harm furniture, windows or people.
With that, one of the most popular toys ever was created. Indeed, there are few people in the civilized world who aren’t familiar with the Nerf ball.
The space program was in full assault mode in 1970, and the ball was nearly released as the “Moon Ball.” While that might have made for even more brisk sales that year, the name is quite lacking in the timelessness of the Nerf moniker.
What exactly is a “nerf,” anyhow? The longstanding rumor is that it is an acronym for non-expanding recreational foam. However, nobody has ever confirmed that. Another explanation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is that it’s simply a made-up name that means nothing. One further theory attributes the term “nerf” to the act of bumping another car in stock car racing. Hmm, not sure what THAT has to do with an indoor-safe ball of foam.
Whatever, a Nerf ball is a pretty amazing invention. Its uses are myriad. If you’re a kid, it’s perfect for rainy-day indoor play, as long as your flying body doesn’t break the very lamp that the foam projectile failed to harm. In the summer, its description of “harmless” becomes dubious down at the swimming pool, where a well-aimed waterlogged Nerf ball can cause you to see stars. And for adults, what better cubicle stress reliever than a squeezable ball that can be tossed at a hoop, whose invention closely followed that of the Nerf ball itself?
The Nerf ball, and its many other variations, have been one of the most successful toy lines in history, much to the delight of Parker Brothers, which has managed to maintain its independent entity in the business world while so many other toy manufacturers have been absorbed by others.
Soon after the release of the original Nerf ball, a football came out that was denser than the superlight foam, so that it could be hurled (outdoors, presumably) for distance. The addition of tailfins make 75-yard perfect spirals feasible for a teenaged kid.
Nowadays, there are more Nerf products than you can shake a stick at, including lightweight video game controllers. No matter how high-tech Nerf toys get, though, we Boomers can recall when it all started with a small orange foam ball that mom DID allow us to play with indoors.