In the late 1950s, former NASA employee John Scurlock was a mechanical engineer who was also interested in physics. His greatest legacy was the invention of the safety air cushion used by fire and rescue teams when rescuing people jumping from heights such as buildings.
In 1959, Scurlock was experimenting with inflatable covers for use on tennis courts and swimming pools to protect them from the elements. His original intention was to create a cover that could protect tennis courts during sudden downpours, which could very quickly be removed after the rain stopped, and easily folded and stored in a small storage place until the next time it was required.
One day he happened to notice his employees were having fun bouncing around on the cover he was currently testing. As he watched, he got the idea that children would enjoy bouncing around on something similar. He leased warehouse space in New Orleans and began manufacturing what he called Space Walks, a large air mattress specifically created for children. Later he added walls and a ceiling, and clear plastic windows. The surface was typically reinforced PVC and nylon inflated using blowers with a gas such as helium, nitrogen, or hydrogen.
In 1968, as Scurlock’s creation began to spark more interest, his wife Frances realized there was a limited market for the purchase of Space Walks as the price was prohibitive. However, she noted the family could make more money by renting them for events such as birthday parties, company picnics, school fetes and church socials, and other venues.
Later, their son Frank expanded the rental business throughout the USA under various brand names. He was also responsible for creating the first inflatable indoor play parks in Louisiana and Tennessee. As the hire business grew over the years the Scurlocks created a number of other inflatables such as tents, domes, and signs. Because the newer structures were enclosed, they created inflated columns that would support netting walls allowing air to pass through to help cool the inside.
There is some confusion as to where the Bouncy Castles were first developed. Some say they were created by university students in England as early as 1961, while others say the Scurlocks were responsible for the development of the castles.