How SuperBalls Work

The Original SuperBall

A lot of companies tried to capitalize on the SuperBall craze of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They made knockoff super-bouncers that came in a variety of sizes and colors. Most were the size of large marbles and could often be found in bubblegum machines. For a mere quarter, a kid could walk away with a rainbow-colored ball that did indeed leap higher than the average ball.

True devotees of the big bounce, however, would settle for nothing less than the Original SuperBall. Luckily, it was easy to tell the difference between a Wham-O-made product and its imitators. The Original SuperBall was larger for one thing. About the size of plum, it measured 1.875 inches (4.76 centimeters) in diameter. Its color was reminiscent of a plum, as well. It came in midnight black or deep purple, like any self-respecting Space Age toy should. And, of course, it bore the official Wham-O Zectron embossing.

The Original SuperBall sold for 98 cents, but the extra pennies bought a much more energetic bounce. Wham-O claimed that the ball could bounce six times higher than, say, a tennis ball dropped from the same height. Throw it at the ground with some force, and it could leap over a three-story building. Hurl it within a small room, and it would ricochet off the walls numerous times before stopping. The secret of the big bounce could be found in the tightly compacted rubber, which preserved more of the object's elastic energy. As a result, each SuperBall bounce retained about 90 percent of the energy of the preceding bounce.

They weren't indestructible, however. Even with Stingley's revised formulation, the SuperBall was prone to disintegration if thrown at the ground or struck with too much force. But with a little care, the toy could last a long time. In fact, some people still carry their Original SuperBalls, either as a way to relive childhood memories or to pay homage to post-Sputnik science. In the next section, we'll examine some of this science to understand what Zectron is and how it works.

More to Explore