The dinner host politely motions you to “have a seat,” as they pull the chair away from the dinner table. As you gracefully make your way down and into the chair, it happens. The Command Fart―a pocket of air that has been chambered for an extended period of time, waiting for just the right moment to be released for maximum effect.
As the blood rushes to your cheeks (the ones on your face) in embarrassment, the dinner table erupts in uncontrollable laughter. You look down to see a deflated Whoopee Cushion. While you’re relieved to find out that it really wasn’t you, you’re still mortified. You’ve been had.
Father Fart Bag
Such a crude and mischievous prank was first deployed in 218 CE, at the dinner table of the youngest emperor Rome had ever known. Barely 15-years-old when he took the reign as emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, also known as Elgabalus, was a diabolical prankster.
At dinner parties, Elgabalus would often use “air pillows” to insight laughter through the embarrassment of his friends and dinner guests. Instead of rubber, Elgabalus would inflate animal bladders with air and slip them under his unsuspecting guests’ chairs to produce the universally recognized fart noise.
Apparently the Roman people didn’t care for his flatulence humor or the ole’ fart bag (not to mention his extreme eccentricity, decadence, and zealotry). At just 18-years-old, Elgabalus was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Severus Alexander on March 11th, 222.
Despite his early death and terrible reputation among Roman emperors, Elgabalus’ contribution to mankind is unmistakable.
Whoopee Cushion Reinvented
Leave it up to a bunch of Canadian’s to reinvent the emperor’s air bag.
The Whoopee Cushion, as we know it today, came into existence in the 1930s when it was reinvented by the JEM Rubber Company in Toronto. The rubber company developed an inflatable rubber bag that ‘farted’ when forcibly deflated. While such gags were commercially available in prankster catalogs, none could compete with the explosive blast of JEM’s rubber fart bag.
In search of a marketing and distribution partner, JEM Rubber called upon the New Jersey-based novelty conglomerate S.S. Adams Company in 1930. At the time; and to this day, the company’s founder was known as the ‘father of novelty pranks.’ A crafty inventor, Soren Sorensen Adams invented more than 650 gags, including the joy buzzer, sneezing powder, the stink bomb, the dribble glass, and the classic snake nut can. With such an illustrious resume, if you had a great gag idea, Adams was the man to see.
Despite his innate ability to spot a winning prank, Adams declined JEM’s overtures. He believed the Whoopee Cushion was too inappropriate and lewd to be a success. This coming from the man who created the stink bomb mind you.
Marketing the Whoopee Cushion
Believing they had a real winner on their hands, JEM persevered and started mass-producing the novelty wind bag on their own. The gag caught the attention of the Johnson Smith & Company, a rival of the S.S. Adams Company.
The Johnson Smith & Company added two versions to their novelty catalog; one for .25 cents, and the other―advertised as “superior in every way”―for $1.25. The economy version was made of plain rubber, whereas the deluxe version was made from rubber-infused fabric. Both versions were marketed under the tagline: “It gives forth noises that can be better imagined than described.” Despite (or because of) the Great Depression, sales exploded.
The earliest prototypes were made of green rubber and were stamped with a drawing of a gun-toting boy, bearing a devious smile and wearing a kilt. The earliest versions were marketed under names like “Poo-Poo Cushion” and “Boop-Boop-a-Doop.” The term Whoopee Cushion first surfaced around 1932. Folklore suggests the name was inspired by Eddie Cantor’s song, “Makin’ Whoopee.”
Remember S.S. Adams? Well, once it was clear that he had made a mistake by passing on the gag bag, he put his ego aside, contacted JEM, and brokered a deal. Soon thereafter, S.S. Adams Company began selling the “Razzberry Cushion.”
Modern Day Flatulence Humor
It’s not exactly known when JEM stopped manufacturing Whoopee Cushions. The company was purchased by Dayton Rubber in 1944 and subsequently shifted its production facility to manufacture rubber-based automotive parts.
Today, most Whoopee Cushions are manufactured in China and face stiff competition in the flatulence humor category. Two of the most versatile competitors―the remote controlled Fart Machine and iFart, an app that once spent an entire year trending at the top of the iTunes App Store―rely on versatile technology to inflict embarrassment unto others.
Whether you use the Fart Machine, iFart, or the good ole’ fashion Whoopee Cushion, they all rely on the same foundational principles; farts are funny and they deflate people.