Petroleum Product of the Week: Ball Pits

Petroleum Product of the Week: Ball Pits

By on May 04 2018

Some of my best childhood memories involve going to a nearby amusement park and playing in the kiddie park's ball pit. Children play so freely in ball pits, a concept credited to designer Eric McMillan. Before him, most parks lacked the magic they hold today thanks to his inventions.

The First Ball Pit and Eric McMillan

The first ball pit was built in 1976 within Sea World's Captain Kid's World, located in San Diego. It was based on a therapy concept that was developed in Europe. McMillan came from England, likely bringing the concept along with him.

Soft play spaces, as they are called, became more popular as McMillan further developed the concept. He is considered the founder of soft play. He is the designer of Sesame Place in PA, a children's theme park just outside of Philadelphia.

"A child needs play areas he can affect directly with his senses and curiosity." Eric McMillan

Today, ball pits specifically for adults are opening up around the world, inspiring grownups everywhere to let their inner child play. Soft, hollow balls fill these play pits, which children still love to this day.

McMillan became an expert at child's play after he reworked the Children's Village at Ontario Place in Toronto, Canada. As Chief Designer, he had the opportunity to fix many issues that came with the original design a lack of appeal to children being one of them.

His designs and inventions here include King of the Mountain, the Rolling Bin, Snake Tube Crawl, and the Ball Crawl today known as the ball pit.

How Hollow Ball Are Made

In general, plastic balls like the ones used today in ball pits are often made of PVC, though there are PVC-free ball pits. These PVC-free balls are often still different types plastics. And it goes without saying that plastics are derived from petroleum.

Making a hollow plastic ball involves some pretty complex machinery. Manufacturers use gas-injection molding to make a typical plastic ball with a standard-injection molding machine. These machines inject plastic into a cavity followed by a gas injection once the barrel closes. That gas is then released from the ball, and the hole from which it is released is sealed with more plastic, creating a hollow ball.

As always, these machines require proper lubrication to ensure that they run smoothly. Petroleum plays a large part in just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives, including playtime.

When's the last time you played in a ball pit?


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