While the history of cheerleading can be traced back to the late 1880s, pom poms did not become part of the cheerleaders repertoire until the mid 1930s when universities and high schools began using them. The pom poms used had been designed and copyrighted by Lawerence Herkimer, but it was Jim Hazlewood who took that copyright and actually created the first cheerleader friendly and somewhat usable pom poms. The pom poms used at this time were made of crepe paper and were very fragile. Strands of the pom poms were continuously falling out and floating down to the ground during the cheers and, if there was a rain or snow storm during the games, the colors would being to run together. Ultimately, if there was too much moisture the crepe paper pom poms would simply disintegrate from the weather long before the game had been completed.
It wasn’t until 1965 that a vinyl version of the pom pom was invented. The new pom poms were created by Fred Gastoff and introduced to university and high school squads everywhere by the International Cheerleading Foundation. The new vinyl pom poms were very different than their paper predecessors. The vinyl allowed for new and exciting options that would ultimately revolutionize the use of pom poms in modern day cheerleading. Now, with vinyl materials being used the pom poms could be made to be lighter in weight, with various options of handles and batons inserted within the pom poms. In addition, the color spectrum and choices of appearance (i.e. metallic, wet, etc.) became almost endless. Pom poms can now be manufactured that have bulls eyes or targets laid out in the strands and other simple designs.
Of course pom poms now come in many different sizes and options including cheer balls which make perfect practice pom poms to save wear and tear on the bigger more expensive pom poms. Cheer balls are also used during cheers that require a lot of pom passes as they have no handles to get in the way and cause a drop. They are generally smaller in diameter but still have over a thousand strands of flipping movement and color as the cheerleaders move and groove to the cheer rhythms.
Pom poms are fairly young as far as cheerleading tools go, but they are part of the flash and mystique that have little girls and boys of all ages dancing and flipping around as they prepare for their opportunity to try out for the squad!