When someone mentions the words “pom poms”, it’s only natural to picture a puffy, flashy, plastic ball of colors that cheerleaders hold during routines. Poms did not always fit that profile, though.
In the 1930s, pom poms were used by high schools and universities as a decorative accessory for cheerleaders to improve showmanship. The first usable pom pom’s creation was credited to Jim Hazlewood, who created them using crepe, or tissue, paper. However, paper poms were thin and delicate so they fell apart easily when shaken vigorously, which caused a problem since poms were a major part of raising spirit and gaining the crowd’s attention. In addition, paper poms were not usable during weather conditions such as rain or snow. Cheerleaders were out on the field to support their team in any weather condition- rain or shine. Poms made of paper had the right idea, but just couldn’t hold up to the demands of dedicated cheerleaders that performed on the sidelines no matter what the weather.
Lawrence Herkimer began manufacturing modern pom poms after he founded his cheerleading supply company in 1953. Herkimer holds a patent to the pom pom since he developed the pom with a hidden handle. He named this cheerleading accessory “pom pon” with an “N” after discovering that “pom pom” had a negative meaning in Hawaii. Realizing the importance of showmanship in cheerleading performances and the parallel rising popularity of the color television, the poms he developed were meant to make cheerleading performances stand out and really shine with color.
In 1965, Fred Gastoff improved upon Hazlewood and Herkimer’s creation and invented the first pom pom made using vinyl, or plastic, streamers. This made poms more durable and resistant to wet weather. This design’s nationwide popularity was attributed to the support of the International Cheerleading Foundation, who introduced, promoted and supported the new style. Ever since the mid 1960s, plastic poms have been the standard for cheerleaders to use in their performances allowing poms to become synonymous to the image of cheerleading.
After poms’ modern debut, companies began to manipulate the designs to account for color, thickness of streamers, length of streamers, and variation of handles. For example, traditional poms have a fuller, puffier, round look with a hidden baton-style handle in the center. Rooter poms are more common in the stands and have thinner, longer streamer and feature an exposed handle so fans can wave them and promote spirit as well as distract the other team. Some pom designs can even feature a side-by-side color split or a bulls-eye color design.
Lawrence Herkimer’s pom development most likely featured a baton-style handle, as it was hidden. The two most popular pom handles are the baton and the dowel. The baton is a handle hidden in the middle of the pom with fluffed streamers coming out from both sides of the handle. Dowel poms feature an exposed handle where the streamers only come out from one side of the handle and are often used for youth cheerleading.
Thanks to Jim Hazlewood, Lawrence Herkimer, and Fred Gastoff, pom designs have improved to meet the standards of cheerleading. Cheerleaders now have a fun, colorful, and durable accessory to help raise spirit during performances.