They might not have an official name, but you know what I’m talking about. The giant swaying men, full of seemingly infinite energy, bobbing and dancing endlessly throughout the day at your local car lot. People reference them by many names: Airdancers, Inflatable Men, or, as Family Guy poetically refers to them, “wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men.”
The story of the inflatable man starts with a man named Peter Minshall. Minshall was from Trinidad and Tobago, where he was known as a mas man; a term in Trinidad for someone who creates artwork for carnivals. His most popular works were giant puppets which would move through the streets while dancing to a Calypso beat.
In the early 1990’s the Atlanta Olympic committee was planning for the 1996 games and were taking notice of Minshall and his unique designs. They found he was interested in the project, and by 1995, he was in Los Angeles working on the opening ceremonies.
He wanted to focus around the idea of using inflatable tubes, but he hadn’t quite found a compelling design. That’s when he hit upon the idea of making them look like people. He realized the tubes would cause the larger-than-life humans to move and dance like the people back in Trinidad and Tobago did – with an easy, loose flow. Minshall christened them “tall boys”. He worked with an LA-based conscripted artist named Doron Gazit to make the vision into a reality and they made their first appearance at the opening ceremonies in Atlanta shortly after.
So how did these “tall boys” go from an artists’ vision and Olympic worthy art to used car lot attractions?
Once the Olympics were over, Gazit applied for a patent for the inflatable men and began licensing them through his company, Air Dimensional Designs. This did become a point of contention between Gazit and Minshall, who had been unaware of the idea of monetizing the design. Gazit’s argument was that after the Olympics people were using the design anyways, so he figured he would at least make some money off of his hard work. Reasonable. Once the company was in place, the men started popping up all over the place.
Believe it or not, even a practical use has also been found for the “Tall Boys”; it turns out that they make excellent scarecrows. So if you are driving down a rural road and see a bunch of waving inflatable guys in a field with no used cars, try to not be terrified.