A brief history of the bungee
Our love-hate relationship with the bungee cord stretches back, way back
10,000 years ago
Tired of the daily routine in Siberia, the ancestors of today’s First Nations take a long road trip, huffing across the land bridge that then connected Asia and North America. They use strips of caribou gut to strap their worldly possessions to their sledges—and wish they had tie-downs that were a little more stretchy.
Men in the Republic of Vanuatu start a tradition of testing their manhood by tying springy vines to their ankles and then jumping out of trees. It’s the first known use of stretchy materials for fun and daring that also resulted in injuries.
Frenchman Charles Moore de la Cardamine uses sap from the South American rainforest to produce natural rubber. He promptly discovers that rubber degrades in sunlight, a property that will come back to snap humankind in the hands, face, arms and legs.
The rubber band is patented by Stephen Perry in England, and is soon holding much of Western civilization together. Meanwhile, schoolboys everywhere torment each other.
The Essex hits the market as the first fully enclosed passenger vehicle—meaning surfboards, bikes, skis and excess baggage now must be strapped to the outside of the vehicle. But how?
English glider pilots use giant elastic cords to launch their planes off hillsides. According to some scholars, the pilots inexplicably coin the word “bungee” as a name for the cords.
In another version of the naming story, Swede Bjorn Goran Ericsson takes the glider-catapult concept and shrinks the cords for everyday use. He braids together multiple strands of rubber and adds hooks to either end, giving birth to the modern “Bjorn G” cord.
Soldiers returning from the Second World War bring bungee cords, used widely during wartime, into daily life. The era of bungee misuse—marked by a profusion of canoes launched off car-tops, roof-rack luggage fallen under the wheels of highway traffic, and hook-shaped scarring of the scalp—begins.
1960s and 70s
Bungee cords fly with American astronauts to help hold stuff down in zero gravity. Buzz Aldrin and crew answer the age-old question: If a bungee snaps into your face in space, does anyone hear you scream?
On April Fool’s Day, members of the Oxford Dangerous Sport Club of Britain jump 245 feet off a bridge with a large bungee cord attached to their feet. Thirty-two years later, it still seems kind of stupid.
An angry American lawyer builds a class-action lawsuit against bungee makers after a cord snaps and takes out his eye. A label is affixed to all bungee cords warning users to wear safety glasses.
Inventors bring adjustable-length bungee cords to market. Across the country, gear geeks immediately set to work figuring out how to overstretch them, overstress them and otherwise bring the new product to epic fail.
Not long ago
We here in the gear department received the Nite Ize KnotBone (from $5), an adjustable, yes, adjustable bungee cord. The thing is genius—simply slip the knots to get the size of cord you need. No more stretching until the white shows through the nylon sheath. No more wondering if a too-slack bungee will really keep your kiteboard on the roof rack. Nite Ize’s one-small-step-for-mankind innovation got us wondering about the evolution of the bungee—and whether its years as a deadly threat to digits and eyes may be over.