All of you Spice Girl era babies, listen up! We’re about to revive an absolute staple of your childhood. Two words: inflatable furniture. If your room didn’t have at least one blow-up couch or chair, can you even consider yourself a 90s kid? Millennials out there probably remember hanging out in blow-up chairs with some S Club 7 on the boombox. But before this generation got their hands on a chair or two, the impracticable inflatables actually had one very practical purpose.
From The Battlefield…
In the 1940s, the first iterations of “inflatable structures,” were actually used on the battlefield during World War II! Specially hired artists and designers created air-filled rubber tanks in order to deceive enemies.
Appearing as though there were hundreds of tanks lining the battlegrounds, in reality, these inflatable transports and weapon dummies could fit inside of a duffel bag, and be pumped up with air in just 20 minutes. An army could look twice as large, leading the troops to believe they were in some serious trouble.
Aside from tanks and transportation, another WWII moment consisted of architectural advances using inflatable materials. Engineer, Walter Bird, went on to create inflatable domes and air-supported structures whose primary purpose was to protect sensitive military equipment. But it’s no surprise that by the mid-50s, Bird would switch gears and create a line of air-supported structures for recreational use: tennis, soccer, golf, football, you name it! So, how did we go from inflatable shelters and decoys to inflatable decor?
To Our Bedrooms!
Fast forward a few years to the ‘60s when inflatable chairs made their official entrance. Created by four young designers within the Italian Anti-Design movement, the Blow chair quickly became the symbol of the new free and light style. Made by Italian manufacturer Zanotta, it was marketed as the perfect furniture for transients or city dwellers. Nowadays we hear plenty about space-saving furniture in small spaces—and how much smaller can you get? The Blow was easy to inflate, easy to transport, and easy to store since it took up practically no space at all in its flattest form.
Many other designers of this time followed suit, and variations of the neon inflatable seating came close behind. In 1967, Quasar Kahnh set out to develop an inflatable furniture line called, “AEROSPACE,” inspired by a major theme of the 60s—space travel! This line instantly became an icon of pop culture, as we know it today!
Once Limited Too got its hands on this product, there was no stopping Britney Spears and Lizzie McGuire fans alike from snagging a heavily branded inflatable chair from the racks. Every color, design, size, and shape was readily available to any trendy teen at this time.
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Like any pool raft or air mattress, these products had one major flaw: their deflation rate. Aside from the uncomfortable sound these chairs made when you sat down, they didn’t keep their shape very well. Following their 90s heyday, many companies tried to revive these interior design icons, but practicality certainly outweighs nostalgia.
Hosted by yours truly, this series, Ripley’s Rewind, will highlight the strange in an age of boomers, millennials, and beyond! With throwbacks, pop culture, television, and trends that totally swept the nation, we’ll answer questions like: who in the world was Carmen Sandiego? Why did everyone and their mother have a family of sea monkeys? And, what was the deal with Princess Leia’s iconic buns? Let’s back it up to your favorite childhood moments—and, of course, add in a little Ripley’s spin.