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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Mar 27, 2022

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The Short of It

  • The wacky wavy inflatable tube man first arrived at the opening ceremony for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta
  • Peter Minshall, a Trinidadian puppet artist, and Doron Gazit, an Israeli environmental artist, collaborated on the design for the famous puppet
  • Due to regulations preventing the use of the sky dancer for advertising in the 2010s, it has now found use in crop fields as a scarecrow

A classic image of Americana salesmanship, the wacky wavy inflatable tube man is a marketing tool recognized as a symbol for a sale. Usually, they are found on car lots or discount stores where the tube man does his exciting dance to attract customers. When did these inflated tube dancers arrive on the scene and what was their original purpose?

If you’re reading this because you happened to see one of these dancers while browsing a car lot, you might be interested in reading up on some of the top-rated auto insurance companies.

Read on to learn more about the inflatable man. To see your price options for an auto insurance policy, use our free quote tool by entering your ZIP code here for quotes from top insurance companies.

The Origins of the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man

This symbols of a sale that we see today is known by several names. It’s been called the wacky wavy inflatable tube man, inflatable tube guy, wacky tube man, sky dancer, air dancer, or originally, tallboy. Its story begins in 1996 with a successful, Trinidad and Tobago puppet artist named Peter Minshall.

In 1996, Minshall was commissioned by the Summer Olympics in Atlanta to create a puppet that would be placed in the field for the opening performance. Minshall, who had worked from the 1970s until the 2000s to create fresh and original puppet ideas for the Carnival celebration in Trinidad, began working on his ideas for a new, tall, inflatable tube that would reach high into the sky.

Peter Minshall has earned several awards for his work in puppeteering, including:

  • Guggenheim Fellowship (1982)
  • Chaconia Silver Medal (1987)
  • Prince Claus Award (2001)
  • Trinity Cross (1996)

Peter Minshall is credited for the concept of the tube man, though it was Israeli-born Doron Gazit, who Minshall enlisted for help on the project, that is credited with the creation of the tube man we recognize today. Though as with seemingly everything, controversy soon came between their partnership.

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The Creation of the Tall Boy

For most of his career, Peter Minshall introduced wonderful, non-traditional, human-operated puppets for the Carnival celebration. His work inspired his nickname “Mas-Man”, which represented his view of an art form that combined beautifully sculpted puppets and the expressiveness of human mobility.

This was fine until Minshall realized he required the help of someone with experience in inflatable art displays, which led to his partnership with Doron Gazit. Gazit was a well-known environmental artist who worked with balloons as a medium to display abstract installations representing concerns about the health of the environment. If you are interested in some of his work, “The Red Line Project” is a well-known display of his that highlights the declining health of important bodies of water.

Some other famous works by Gazit include,

  • Medusa Hi-Light
  • Air Pyramid
  • Sculpting in the Wind

The combination of Minshalls’ human-movement-inspired puppets with Gazits’ technology to inflate larger-than-life balloons was just the ticket for the creation of the “Tall Boy.” And put the pair into the history of greatest all-time business marketing tools.

Controversy over a balloon?

The credit over the inflatable tube man is challenging to pin in the case of Minshall and Gazit over the creation of their air dancer, as the puppet almost caused the two artists to settle permission rights in court.

After the exciting premiere of the inflatable tube man in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Minshall went back to work with his puppets in Trinidad and Gazit back to his home in Los Angeles. Gazit patented the rights to the inflatable tube dancer in 2001 and started his commercial business Air Dimensional Design Inc., where he rented the sky dancers out to businesses for advertising. This was the beginning of the national takeover of the inflatable tube man.

Minshall was unaware of Gazits’ profiting off of their mutual creation and at the time, considered the possibility of taking the matter to court. Minshall ultimately decided it would be too time-consuming and costly. The two artists made their amends eventually and are friends to this day.

The Inflatable Tube Man’s Rise to Fame

From the success of the ’96 Olympic display of the tallboys, a slew of new commercial businesses began to capitalize on the marketability of these new marketing tools. They were popping up all over the country for people to use for roadside advertising, business parties, music concerts, and much more. The use of these simple-to-make, brightly colored, and fun dancing balloon men seemed limitless for businesses of the 90s.

Doron Gazit submitted his patent for these two-legged dancers shortly after the ’96 Olympics, though it did not get approved until a few years later, in 2001. This time between ’96 and ’01 saw the commercial success of the tube men, albeit short-lived, as Gazit began cracking down on infringement cases immediately after gaining intellectual and commercial ownership of his design.

Gazit’s patent only covered the specific design of a two-legged, inflated balloon in the likeness of a human. Therefore, commercial copies of a one-legged variety that we commonly recognize today were still available on the market.

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Inflatable Tube Man Goes to Court

The commercial success of the wacky wavy inflatable tube man, in Gazit’s original design or a lookalike copy, grew wildly through the 00s and 10s. You could reliably expect to see them on discount car lots while looking for used cars under $10,000 (or even cheaper) or nearby businesses that were advertising a sale. They were seemingly everywhere, up until they weren’t.

With the widespread use of the hilarious tube men came a negative public response to these subjectively ‘gaudy’ and ‘polluting’ advertising tools. The public grew tired of their obnoxious presence on street corners, highways, and even neighborhoods. For as fast as they rose in popularity, they now were being banned by local council committees all across America.

Their visual novelty had seemingly run out, and city governments began restricting their use due to the unsightliness and lack of aesthetics.

What is the wacky waving inflatable tube man up to today?

With the restrictions on the use of inflatable tube men for advertising nowadays, its presence is hardly noticed. The symbol of what they represent is still in the collective mind from their heavy use in past years, though they have taken a backseat to more common advertising techniques such as banners and flags.

It’s not completely over for the inflatable tube man in today’s world, though. As a coincidence would have it, they make for great scarecrows. Since no restrictions were set in place for their use on privately owned farmland, farmers across the country have co-opted them for use in crop fields. Their sporadic and energetic bursts of movement excel at keeping pesky and shy birds away from grazing on crops.

Away from the public eye, inflatable tube men have now hidden away on farmlands serving a different role from their original purpose of eye-catching entertainment as an energetic roadside advertising product. Coincidentally enough, Doron Gazit’s fun, inflated art piece is now being used in a setting that is closer to his work’s purpose: the environment.

Now that you know all about the inflatable tube man and its use to advertise a sale save some money yourself. Compare auto insurance rates from top companies for free by entering your ZIP code here.