Many a scientific breakthrough owes its origins to a happy accident. In 1839, Charles Goodyear’s discovery of vulcanisation – without which mass production of hardwearing rubber balls would have been impossible – arose from a spillage in the workshop. In 1965 another American scientsist, Norman Stingley, stumbled on the process that led to the Wham-O Superball; a ball so bouncy that no known game or garden fence could contain it.
A decade later came the Stress BAll, offering spongy relief to tense executives the world over.
Here were novelty balls in search of a role. In effect, chemical experiments with added spin.
Such a ball was the pushball – essentially a gaint rubber bladder – as seen in Leyton, east London, in 1924. A team game sponsored by the Daily MAil was concocted to showcase its potencial, at a time when new sports such as speedway, greyhound racing and ice hockey were all vying for public interest.
But if pushballs tended to deflate on land, on water they made a right splash. Often named after thrir sportswear sponsors, ‘Bukta Balls’ were to be seen bobbing abuot in Britain’s lidos and open air swimming pools until at least the 1970s.
Of cource they were never guite as easy to tame as made out by this detail from a poster for the South Bay open air pool in Scarborough. But that hardly stopped swimmers from trying.