Super Ball

This article is about the toy manufactured by Wham-O. For other highly resilient balls, see bouncy ball.
A Super Ball containing particles of glitter, resting on a base. The rubber has yellowed with age.

A Super Ball (a.k.a. SuperBall) is a toy based on a type of synthetic rubber invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingley. It is an extremely elastic ball made of Zectron[1] which contains the synthetic polymer polybutadiene as well as hydrated silica, zinc oxide, stearic acid, and other ingredients.[2] This compound is vulcanized with sulfur at a temperature of 165 degrees Celsius and formed at a pressure of 3,500psi. The resulting Super Ball has a very high coefficient of restitution,[3][4][5] and dropped from shoulder level, a Super Ball snaps nearly all the way back; thrown down by an average adult, it can leap over a three-story building.

Toys similar to Super Balls are more generally known as bouncy balls, a term that covers other balls by different manufacturers with different formulations.


A branded Wham-O Super Ball from 2001

After Stingley invented Polybutadiene synthetic rubber, he sought uses for it, as well as someone to manufacture it. He first offered his invention to the Bettis Rubber Company, for whom he worked at the time.[6] Because the material was not very durable, they turned it down,[7] so he took it to toy company Wham-O that worked on developing a more durable version. This version is still manufactured by Wham-O.[8][9]

"It took us nearly two years to iron the kinks out of Super Ball before we produced it," said Richard Knerr, President of Wham-O, in 1966.[10] "It always had that marvelous springiness ... But it had a tendency to fly apart. We've licked that with a very high-pressure technique for forming it. Now we're selling millions." [10]

When Super Ball was introduced, it became a fad.[11] Peak production reached over 170,000 Super Balls per day.[12] By December 1965 over six million had been sold, and U.S. Presidential adviser McGeorge Bundy had five dozen Super Balls shipped to the White House for the amusement of the staff.[1][12][13][14] Knowing that fads are often short-lived, Wham-O Executive Vice-president Richard P. Knerr said, "Each Super Ball bounce is 92% as high as the last. If our sales don't come down any faster than that, we've got it made."[14] Initially, the full-size Super Ball sold for 98¢ at retail; by the end of 1966 its colorful miniature versions sold for as little as 10¢ in vending machines.[15]

In the late 1960s Wham-O made a "giant" Super Ball, roughly the size of a bowling ball, as a promotional stunt.[8][9] It fell from the 23rd story window (some reports say the roof) of an Australian hotel and destroyed a parked convertible car on the second bounce.[8][9]

The composer Alcides Lanza, in his composition Plectros III (1971), specified that the performer should use a pair of Super Balls on sticks as mallets with which to strike and rub the strings and case of a piano.[16] Lanza purchased several Super Balls in 1965 as toys for his son, but soon he started experimenting with the sounds they made when rubbed along the frame or strings of a piano.[16] Several years later, Plectros III resulted.

After watching his children play with a Super Ball, Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League, coined the term Super Bowl. In a July 25, 1966, letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, "I have kiddingly called it the 'Super Bowl,' which obviously can be improved upon." Although the leagues' owners decided on the name "AFL-NFL Championship Game," the media immediately picked up on Hunt's "Super Bowl" name, which would become official beginning with the third annual game.[8][17][18]

Physical properties

According to one study "If a pen is stuck in a hard rubber ball and dropped from a certain height, the pen may bounce to several times that height."[19] If a Super Ball is dropped without spin onto a hard surface, with a small ball bearing on top of the Super Ball, the bearing rebounds to a great height.[20]

High school physics teachers use Super Balls to educate students on usual and unusual models of impacts.[21]

The "rough" nature of a Super Ball makes its impact characteristics different from otherwise similar smooth balls.[22][23] The resulting behavior is quite complex.[23] The Super Ball has been used as an illustration of the principle of Time Reversal Invariance.[24]

A Super Ball is observed to reverse the direction of spin on each bounce.[25][26][27] This effect depends on the tangential compliance and frictional effect in the collision. It cannot be explained by rigid body impact theory, and would not occur were the ball perfectly rigid.[27] Tangential compliance is the degree to which one body clings to rather than slips over another at the point of impact.[28]



  1. 1 2 Johnson, Richard Alan (December 1985). American Fads. William Morrow & Co. pp. 81–83. ISBN 0-688-04903-6. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  2. Farrally, Martin R; Cochran, Alastair J. (1998). Science and golf III: proceedings of the 1998 World Scientific Congress of Golf. Human Kinetics. pp. 407, 408. ISBN 0-7360-0020-8.
  3. Cross, Rod (May 2002). "Measurements of the horizontal coefficient of restitution for a superball and a tennis ball". American Journal of Physics. American Association of Physics Teachers. 70 (5): 482–489. doi:10.1119/1.1450571. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  4. MacInnes, Iain (May 2007). "Debouncing a Superball". The Physics Teacher. American Association of Physics Teachers. 45 (5): 304–305. doi:10.1119/1.2731280. For bounces on a wooden bench top, the coefficient of restitution, typically about e = 0.8.
  5. Myers, Rusty L. (December 2005). The Basics of Physics. Greenwood. p. 304. ISBN 0-313-32857-9. Retrieved 5 February 2010. ...on a hard surface...0.85 for a superball
  7. Wham-O Super Book Celebrating 60 Years Inside the Fun Factory By Tim Walsh ISBN 978-0-8118-6445-9
  8. 1 2 3 4 Wulffson, Don L; Laurie Keller (July 2000). Toys!: Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions. Henry Holt and Co. pp. 92–94. ISBN 0-8050-6196-7.
  9. 1 2 3 Weiss, Joanna (August 21, 2005). "Toy story". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  10. 1 2 Griswald, Wesley S. (January 1966). "Can You Invent a Million-Dollar Fad?". Popular Science. 188 (1): 78–81.
  11. Kallen, Stuart A. (February 2004). Arts and Entertainment. Lucent Library of Historical Eras — The 1960s. Lucent. p. 84. ISBN 1-59018-388-6.
  12. 1 2 Rielly, Edward J. (May 2003). "Leisure Activities". The 1960s. Greenwood. p. 108. ISBN 0-313-31261-3. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  13. "A Boom with a Bounce: The U.S. is Having a Ball". Life. Time, Inc. 59 (23): 69, 74. December 3, 1965. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  14. 1 2 Hoffmann, Frank W.; William G. Bailey (August 1994). Fashion & Merchandising Fads. Routledge. pp. 243–244. ISBN 1-56024-376-7.
  15. "California Happy but Wants New Winners". Billboard: 43, 44. December 31, 1966.
  16. 1 2 Jones, Pamela (November 2007). Alcides Lanza: Portrait of a Composer. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-7735-3264-1.
  17. MacCambridge, Michael. America's Game. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 237.
  18. Rex W. Huppke (2007-01-30). "Legends of the Bowl". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2007-01-31. Lamar Hunt, who died in December, coined the term Super Bowl in the late 1960s after watching his kids play with a Super Ball, the bouncy creation of iconic toy manufacturer Wham-O.
  19. Harter, William G. (June 1971). "Velocity Amplification in Collision Experiments Involving Superballs". American Journal of Physics. American Association of Physics Teachers. 39 (6): 656–663. doi:10.1119/1.1986253. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  20. Browne, Michael E. (July 1999). "9: Linear Momentum and Collisions". Schaum's Outline of Theory and Problems of physics for Engineering and Science. McGraw-Hill. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0-07-008498-X. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  21. Brogliato, Bernard (April 1999). Nonsmooth Mechanics: Models, Dynamics, and Control. Springer. p. 153. ISBN 1-85233-143-7. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  22. Garwin, Richard L. "Kinematics of an Ultraelastic Rough Ball" (PDF). American Journal of Physics. American Association of Physics Teachers. 37 (1): 88–92. doi:10.1119/1.1975420. Retrieved 1 February 2010. A Rough ball which conserves kinetic energy exhibits unexpected behavior after a single bounce and bizarre behavior after three bounces against parallel surfaces. The Wham-O Super-Ball...appears to approximate this behavior...quite different from that of a...smooth ball
  23. 1 2 Coatta, Dan; Bram Lambrecht (December 10, 2004). Dynamics of a Super Ball: How Reversible Tangential Impacts Make for an Entertaining Toy (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 1 February 2010. Super balls are simple toys that exhibit surprisingly complex behavior. Part of the fun of a super ball is a result of the high friction between the rubber of the ball and the surface it bounces against. This friction places moments on the ball that cause it to spin after bouncing. The exchange of energy between rotational and translational forms that occurs at each collision makes the super ball’s behavior difficult to predict.
  24. Crawford, Frank S. (September 1982). "Superball and time-reversal invariance". American Journal of Physics. American Association of Physics Teachers. 50 (9): 856. doi:10.1119/1.12756.
  25. Bridges, Richard (December 1991). "The spin of a bouncing `superball'". Physics Education. 26 (6): 350–354. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/26/6/003. Retrieved 1 February 2010. Strobe photographs of a spinning, bouncing `superball' are analysed to determine whether observed reversals of spin during bouncing fit a model analogous to Newton's experimental law of restitution. Rough, but imperfect agreement is found.
  26. Aston, Philip J.; R Shail (October 11, 2007). "The Dynamics of a Bouncing Superball With Spin" (PDF). Dynamical Systems. Retrieved 1 February 2010. When a superball is thrown forwards but with backspin, it is observed to reverse both direction and spin for a few bounces before settling to bouncing motion in one direction.
  27. 1 2 Stronge, W. J. (March 2004). Impact Mechanics. Cambridge University Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-521-60289-0. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  28. Stronge, W. J. (March 2004). Impact Mechanics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-521-60289-0. Retrieved 4 February 2010.

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