Post #2: Inspirations

Project Update: We're getting excited!  Our patent application is in place.  The "Bandit Ball" trademark is closer to being accepted.  The order for production is a go.  We'll have project updates whenever we have new blog posts.  Stay tuned! 

Inspirations:  In the early 1960’s, even the Frisbee was young.  The Superball came of age, along with Hula Hoops and all the cool Wham-O products that made backyard play amazing.   I would watch Saturday morning cartoons to see the toy advertisements.  We would eagerly await the Sears Catalog and other toy ads of the day.  I was unaware of two things at the time:  1. Toy design was in my future.  2. It would take 50 years to get something mass produced!

My dad's name was Jack.  He was an accountant by trade.  He crunched numbers for a living at Keystone Steel and Wire Co. in Bartonville, IL.  At home he was a jack of all trades. He would sketch out and work out solutions for just about any problem that presented itself around our house.  I was often his helper and remember this fondly.

Our family traveled to Fort Meyers, Florida each spring.  Both sets of my grandparents lived there … my dad's folks in the winter and my mom's full time.  They had built a house near the Caloosahatchee River, which was also where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had their winter homes.  The Edison home was open to the public and we visited several times over the years.  It was always inspiring, although a bit overwhelming to a little kid.  That said, if I can attribute anything to kindling my fire to invent it might have been this.

                                                                         Edison's Workshop     Courtesy: Wikimedia

In high school I recall an art teacher telling me he thought I had a talent for drawing.  I still remember that.  With one simple comment, he added a value to my life which remains to this day.   Things like that are important to kids and adults.  A small kindness or word of encouragement can go a very long way. 

That may have been a part of what lead me to my major at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL.   I was undecided my first year and my good friend Tom Sandberg was in Industrial Design.  He was my roomy sophomore year and had a real talent at drawing cars.  "Renderings", he called them.  I was very impressed and “I.D” is what I chose.

 I learned much in college.  From introductory art and design to shop classes doing advanced wood and metal work, I soaked it all in.  Here is the chess set I made in a junior year Materials & Processes class.  The pieces are steel and aluminum and it sits in our family room to this day.

Our son, Nate, is a freshman at the U. of I.  Of course, I've had a few stories to tell him. One which relates as far as design goes has to do with a paper airplane contest we had my senior year.   The chair of the Industrial Design department was in charge of it and he gave us few rules at the outset.  From what I recall the parameters were something like, "Anything that flies is an airplane.  It must be entirely paper.  You can wad up a piece of paper and throw it if you want..."   That said, the winning craft would have the longest flight.

I took him literally at the looseness of the competition, and invented the "Whirling Square."  This was truly my first attempt at a throwing toy:  A 12 inch, flat square made up of several sheets of paper... extra paper at each of the 4 corners for weight. I pulled an all-nighter to make the Square... not unusual for a student in design.  It was tested as the sun came up and was declared to be weirdly cool by those with whom I lived.

The contest was at the U. of I. Armory building, which is 100 yards long and 100 feet high.

                                         University of Illinois Armory              Photo by J. Hinnen

 Kids in my class showed up with some impressive entries.   Their crafts flew.  They glided and did loops. It was all quite fun!  My turn came and I eagerly tossed my creation. "Gosh!"  It skimmed along the ground and ended up about 20 feet from where it started.

Fortunately, we got two tries.  "Height!"  It hit me... throw the Square as high as I could.   The next throw was something to see.  The "Whirling Square" went almost 1/2 the length of the Armory and wound up hitting a huge window on the upper deck.  So cool!  As it ended up, I did not win.  Although it sailed and spun to new heights, the judges ruled that the Square was not an airplane.  It was ... a square.

A few years later in a paper airplane competition at U.C.L.A., a design student thought up the same kind of craft.  He wound up with his picture in "Time Magazine."  Go figure!    

I was on the 5-year plan at U.of I. and worked for a graphic design firm in Champaign during the last year.  The thrill of inventing the "Whirling Square" stayed with me and the entrepreneurial itch took hold.  I moved back to Peoria ... had a shop in my parents' basement and a mind full of dreams.

During this time I started doodling in a sketchbook.  And doodling and doodling.  Over the years I have filled up my share.                                                                   Sketchbooks . . . . . . . . All Full

 Here is a quick view of 5 months of sketches in 2016:  

So I, like most everyone, have had some ideas.  But what do we do with ideas?  They arrive quickly and disappear even quicker.  Write them down. Work on them. Share them with friends. When these things happen, there's no telling where they'll end up!




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Gary Erb

Terrific, Johnny! We look forward to your further success and great stories.

Brenda Noel

I love your story! Looking forward to seeing and purchasing the Bandit Ball!

Liz Suits

Cant wait for your product, will be purchasing for sure!

Kent Hinnen

Very cool John! looking forward to getting one for me and my grandkids!

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