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The first inflatable structure was designed in 1959
The first inflatable structure was designed in 1959 by Mr John Scurlock in Shreveport, Louisiana who was experimenting with inflatable covers for tennis courts when he noticed his employees enjoyed jumping on the covers. He was a mechanical engineer and liked physics. John was a pioneer of inflatable domes, inflatable tents, inflatable signs and his greatest achievement was the invention of the safety air cushion that is used by fire and rescue departments to catch people jumping from buildings or heights.
The first space walk manufacturing company was in New Orleans in a leased warehouse that also sewed horse pads. His wife, Frances, started the first inflatable rental company in 1968 and in 1976 they built a custom facility for the production and rental of the products. They marketed the space walks to children's events such as birthday parties, school fairs and company picnics.
Their son Frank expanded their rental concept throughout the United States under the brand names "Space Walk" and "Inflatable Zoo". Frank also founded the first all inflatable indoor play park called "Fun Factory" on Thanksgiving Day 1986 in Metairie, Louisiana. A second unit was opened in Memphis Tennessee called "Fun Plex" in 1987. Both locations closed after the value of the property became too great for the operations. The first inflatable was an open top mattress with no sides, called a "Space Pillow". In 1967 a pressurized inflatable top was added, it required two fans and got hot in the summer like a greenhouse. That version was called "Space Walk" and was adopted as the company name.
In 1974, to solve the heat problem, a new product line called "Jupiter Jump" was created that has inflated columns that supported netting walls which allowed the air to pass through. Further enhancements of this style were developed such as a line of castles and animals which are referred to as the "Inflatable Zoo". In the early 1990s Frank created the first commercial inflatable water slide called the "Aqua Tunnel". Space Walk was the first company to bring an inflatable to the IAAPA convention, Showmen's Club and the American Rental Association.
The surfaces are typically composed of thick, strong PVC or vinyl and nylon, and the castle is inflated using an electric or petrol-powered blower. The principle is one of constant leakage, meaning small punctures are not a problem - a medium-size "bouncy castle" requires a fan with a mechanical output of about two horsepower (consuming around 2 kW electrical power, allowing for the efficiency of the motor).
UK and Australian bouncy castles have specifications calling for fully inflated walls on three sides with an open front and foam "crash mats" to catch children who may jump or fall out of the structure.
Modern moonwalks in the US are typically supported by inflatable columns and enclosed with netting. The netting allows for supervision as adults can see in from all sides.
Cheaper inflatable structures are usually made of polyester rather than nylon PVC and do not use a blower, instead they are inflated with a pump similar to an airbed. They do not last as long and it is illegal in the UK and USA to hire these out.
Another type of home-use inflatable has evolved, with a blower pumping in air continuously. Pores in the seams and material allow air to escape as kids play, while the blower continues to inflate the unit. This category has emerged as a response to parents who wish to buy an inflatable for home use.
In 2005 the most severe standards in the construction of an inflatable amusement were adopted nationally in Australia, forming Federal Standard AS3533.4. This was a landmark safety standard bringing the toughest design/construction/operation standards to the inflatable industry of Australia. In 2006 the European Union (EU) followed and introduced similar standards throughout EU called EN14960:2006
In the US, Pennsylvania and New Jersey require inflatables to pass engineering and safety standards before allowing the equipment to be rented out.
Inflatable obstacle courses
There are also inflatable obstacle courses that allow for participants to have races and compete against one another.
Some inflatables are designed to allow games such as boxing rings, water football, penalty shootouts, basketball, tug of war, and gladiator duels. These interactive inflatable games are made out of the same material that a continuous airflow bounce house is made of. Quad tracks are also popular and provide the perimeter for Quad bike racing.
To maintain the quality of inflatables, voluntary organizations exist for manufacturers, resellers and renters.
In the US, the Association of Inflatable Rental Company Operators (AIRCO) is the largest trade group for companies who rent inflatable amusements. Established in 2005, it evolved from a commercial forum. A trade group was needed to bring the industry together, promoting safety and monitoring standards.
The Safe Inflatables Operators Training Organization (SIOTO) was developed to train operators of inflatable games. With other operators from the Moonwalk Forum