Friday, October 29, 2010

The Whoopee Cushion - A Tribute and Short History

Consider the whoopee cushion, also referred to as the Poo Poo Cushion and Razzbery Cushion. An object of disgust for some, merriment for others. Invented around 1950 by two employees of the Jem Rubber Company of Toronto Canada, goofing around with scrap pieces of rubber sheeting. Sounds like it was a fun place to work. The company tried to sell the new device to Sam Adams, founder of the S.S.Adams Novelty Company. But Sam Adams refused, saying the item was too vulgar and would never sell. But other companies that Jem Rubber approached did not think the same way. The rest is history.

So what is the mystique of the whoopee cushion? Flatulence has never been proper behavior in public, at least for many people. Things that are not proper are left wide open to the imagination of folks with a sense of humor. Flatulence jokes are found in the plays of the 5th century BC playwright Aristophanes, in the writings of Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, in the Arabic tales translated by Sir Richard Burton Tales of 1001 Nights, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain both included references to the fart in their writings. Famous company for such low brow humor, I'd say.

My first experience with a whoopee cushion was brought about by my Dad, one of the great practical jokesters and pranksters I ever knew. When us kids were called in to supper, we never knew what was in store. A dribble glass, a pile of rubber dog doo doo on our plates, soup spoons with clear plastic inserts that soup would roll off of, a telescopic fork that Dad would extend to swipe food off your plate, rubber vomit. And between meals was no different. Chinese Finger Traps , Joy Buzzers, cans of mixed nuts that when opened out shot a long snake. By the time us kids were old enough to leave home, we had pretty much seen it all, prankster wise anyway. Some of us had enough of the pranks when we were kids, some of us were hooked on them. I confess to being hooked on them.

There were primarily two companies that sold these types of pranks over the years. The aforementioned S.S. Adams,which began business in 1906, and Johnson Smith Company that began business in 1914. Both companies are still in business. The gag market evidently is still very strong. Johnson Smith published a 500+ page catalogue full of novelties and gags in the 1920's, and my Dad used to order from there from his childhood days until a few years before his death in 1993. Some comments from the Johnson Smith Company:

"Our story is not without sociological aspects and influences. During the 1920s and 1930s, practical jokes and home hobbies provided an escape for people wracked with economic struggle brought on by WWI and the Great Depression. Our catalog provided hours of "escape," fun and fantasy for the depressed nation, even without having to order! Even today we hear from people who remember our catalog and the "relief" we provided!" 

So there you have it. Sociological aspects from pranks and jokes, including the whoopee cushion! There are also the technological aspects of this that should not be ignored. The original whoopee cushion, made from rubber and inexpensive, has given way to a wonder of technology, the remote control whoopee cushion! While there is always a price to pay for technology, the modern version has 15 different sounds, can be operated with the remote control up to fifty feet away.

But there is still room for the original version of the whoopee cushion. It does take a certain degree of skill in use, and there are ways of getting different noises from the original whoopee cushion. For the purist, the original. For everyone else, the remote control version.
So whether the results of using a whoopee cushion (either the vintage or new-fangled style) make you laugh, cringe, or turn away in disgust the whoopee cushion is here to stay.

1 comment:

  1. The best & cheapest where the ones Dad would rip at anytime, work he use to run everone out of the office, I cleared out a grievence meeting & your's are legendary.Fitting you should post this on whoopee cushion!!!
    Guess who?