As legend has it, an American traveller named George Hansburg was making his way through Burma when he made the acquaintance of a poor farmer.
The farmer’s daughter was named Pogo, and Pogo – devout little girl that she was – wanted to go to temple every day to pray, but couldn’t because she had no shoes to wear for the long walk through the mud and rocks.
So the poor farmer built a jumping stick for her, and Pogo’s daily temple bounce-trips through the mud and over the rocks ensued.
When the impressed traveller returned home, he made a jumping stick of his own, attaching a spring to the wooden stick contraption that the farmer had introduced him to. Sure it’s far-fetched, but it’s nice, isn’t it?
Wherever the idea for the jumping stick really came from, Hansburg patented his “Pogo Stick” in 1919. The Gimble Brothers Department Store in America imported a boatload of them, but unfortunately, the sticks rotted on the wet ship ride over.
The folks at Gimble asked Hansburg to produce something more resilient, and Hansburg eventually did just that – from his own factory called SBI Enterprises. And those sticks, called “Master Pogos”, were the bouncing wonders that we know and love today.
The Pogos were incredibly popular in the 1920s – because if you had two left feet and couldn’t jitterbug, at least you could jump. Hansburg taught the Ziegfeld Follies how to bounce, and from there on out, showmanship and the Pogo just sort of went hand in hand.
The New York Hippodrome chorus girls performed entire shows on them, marriage vows were exchanged on them, jumping contests were held, and world records for most consecutive jumps were set, and then re-set again.
In the early 1970s, Hansburg sold his company to a local Ellenville, New York businessman named Irwin Arginisky. Though sales have never been as brisk as they were in those roaring 20s, Pogos never stopped being made, and today, like a lot of old-school toys, they’re enjoying a bit of a renaissance.
Though there’s the brightly coloured “Go-Go Pogo” from competing toy company Pierce, sticks with plastic super-hero torsos for handlebars (Spider Man and Wonder Woman, for example), and gimmicky accessories like “bounce-ometers” and plastic ornaments, the classic no-logo models from SBI are the sticks that bounce best with consumers over the long haul.
Whatever model you choose, a bouncer perfects balance and burns calories, though he’s probably unaware of both phenomena. Today, Pogos are exported all over the world, and in Burma, maybe that little farm girl Pogo (if she indeed was real) watches her kids and grandkids jump around on the new metal gizmos and tells them about how easy they’ve got it compared to the old splintery days.