The History of Stress Balls Timeline:
It all started with walnuts in China, but today stress balls are available in a variety of shapes and colors. Journey through time to learn the fascinating history of stress relievers.
Published: July 23rd, 2020
The first fidget objects were used in China as early as 206 BC. However, it wasn't until the 1980s when stress balls were sold commercially, becoming popular items for relieving workplace anxiety and as promotional giveaways for businesses.
Stress balls are squishy, squeezy, and easily one of the most eye-catching promotional products out there. With options as varied as standard round stress relievers, to ones shaped like stars, even Abraham Lincoln busts, there's no going wrong with these fun giveaway items! They are useful to have around the office on a bad day and easy to customize with your logo or advertising message.
The Song Dynasty became the ruling power in China, trading in walnuts for balls carved from stone and metal. These early stress relievers were also used to stay focused in battle.
Baoding Balls were produced during the Ming Dynasty in China. This was the first time objects were mass-produced and sold specifically to practice medication and relieve stress.
Dr. Otto Bayer developed polyurethane as a replacement for rubber. It soon became a popular material for everything from furniture to apparel, eventually being used in stress balls about 50 years later.
Nerf created soft, indoor balls made from polyurethane. While they weren't marketed as stress relievers, the toy's success paved the way for even more polyurethane balls to be manufactured.
Alex Carswell created the first commercial stress balls in New York. Following his success, many other 80s stress relievers came onto the market such as the popular Panic Pete toy featured here.
Stress balls started to become more than just novelty items, instead becoming valuable advertising giveaways. The design became simple and round as these objects were meant to manage workplace stress.
Alpi International changed the game with custom-shaped stress relievers. The innovative molds allow for more versatility in the design, meaning stress balls can be shaped as anything and everything!
Simone Schramm developed an interactive stress ball for her thesis at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam in Germany. The aptly-named Stress Ball becomes more textured depending on your anxiety levels.
Stress balls filled with Orbeez became a huge hit on social media. These jelly-like beads expand in water, making for a fun, colorful twist on traditional stress relievers.
Stress balls may have never evolved from walnuts and stones if it wasn't for World War II. The need for materials to use for weaponry and equipment became great, which inspired researchers to use the polyurethane developed by Dr. Otto Bayer in 1937 as a substitute for natural rubber. This material was used to make everything from sealants that protected metal machine parts from corrosion to clothing that was resistant to mustard gas.
From there, polyurethane took on a life of its own. Only a year later, the DuPont Corporation began using the foam for commercial purposes in insulation, bedding, furniture, and packaging. Around the same time, Hans Selye had adopted the term "stress" as a psychological concept. With growing tensions from the wars, and more and more Americans entering the workforce, Bayer's polyurethane became an important material in a world of overwhelmed people. Meanwhile, Selye's idea of stress gave a word to the way people were feeling.
It would still take another 50 years for commercial stress relievers to be created, mainly because money was tight following the war. Stress balls weren't yet a worthy investment, but the rise of polyurethane helped stress balls eventually find their way to every desk across the country.
Nerf created a product that kids loved. However, adults wanted the grown-up version to bring to work, which inspired the first commercial stress balls on the market in the 80s. This was also the first time companies used these objects as advertising materials by printing their logo, name, and contact information on the outside.
The world was beginning to see that stress was a common problem and they would need coping mechanisms. Both parents were entering the workforce and anxiety disorders were getting diagnosed. California TV writer, Alex Carswell, felt that frustration himself. One day while at work, he got so frustrated that he whipped a magic marker across the room and broke a picture of his mom and dog. It was in this moment that Carswell paused and thought about creating a product designed to help someone vent frustration without hurting the things and people around them.
Carswell's simply named "Stressball" was made of polyurethane and contained a microchip that activated a glass shattering sound when thrown. This provided the same relief of actually breaking something without having to buy new things for your office or home. Dakin Inc. (who eventually merged into Applause Toys) marketed these stress balls, debuting the prototype at the International Toy Fair in New York. By 1988, stress balls were being sold by retailers across the country.
At $24.95 each, the Stressball wasn't nearly as affordable as today's version, which can start as low as under $1. It also had mixed reviews across the board. Sports Illustrated described it as "nothing more than a lowly descendant of fast food containers and baseballs." Meanwhile, NFL wide receiver Michael Irvin loved using his during stressful games and the National Exercise for Life Institute placed the Stressball on their top ten healthy gift guide list. Ultimately, Carswell's version disappeared from public view, but stress balls still made an impact in the marketplace.
The World Health Organization estimates that stressed out employees will cost U.S. businesses about $300 billion per year. Stress balls are meant to distract from tense workplace situations, as well as offer a physical release. In fact, they've been proven to help prevent common ailments including arthritis, rheumatism, and poor blood circulation.
Aside from their health benefits, stress balls are also a great way for businesses to promote their services. With so many options available, you can print your company logo or name on any stress ball shape imaginable. This makes for a much more memorable advertising giveaway than brochures or business cards.
At the end of the day, operating a business is stressful work for both upper management and regular employees. Cheap, foam stress balls are an easy way to brighten the workplace and improve focus.
While stress balls are no longer used to train warriors, they still help us deal with our daily battles. From fighting through rush hour traffic to staying sane when we try a recipe for the first time, custom stress relievers make every day a little less frustrating. Let's face it, there's no better defense out there from unwanted stress and tension!
Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.
Miller, A. (2017, August 2). A Stressed-Out America Seeks Comfort in Stress Balls. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://www.asicentral.com/news/web-exclusive/august-2017/a- stressed-out-america-seeks-comfort-in-stress-balls/
Cardon, M. (2015). Is Stress Worth It? Stress-Related Health and Wealth Trade-Offs for Entrepreneurs. The International Association of Applied Psychology.
Stalvey, S. (Summer 2006). Using Stress Balls to Focus the Attention of Sixth-Grade Learners. The Journal of At-Risk Issues. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ853381.pdf
Jaffe, A. (2017, June 5). Quit Worrying, Fidget Toys Have Been Around Forever. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/fidget-spinners-toys-history
American Chemistry Council. (2018). Introduction to Polyurethanes: History. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://polyurethane.americanchemistry.com/Introduction-to-Polyurethanes/History/
Berenstein, N. (2018, March 13). The History of Stress Balls. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://woollymag.com/comfort/history-stress-balls.html
Kennard, J. (2018). A Brief History of the Term Stress. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://www.healthcentral.com/article/a-brief-history-of-the-term-stress
Trex, E. (2011, January 20). A Brief History of Nerf (or Nothin'). Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/26916/brief-history-nerf-or-nothin
Chetwynd, J. (2011). The Secret History of Balls: The Stories Behind the Things We Love to Catch, Whack, Throw, Kick, Bounce, and Bat. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
McIntosh, D, Horowitz, J. (2017). Stress: The Psychology of Managing Pressure. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.