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Origin of the Tensa4 hammock stand

Origins would be more correct.

When I set out to make a portable hammock stand, my first goal was to improve upon the portability of an existing, proven design. That effort failed. In attempt to recover losses having bought expensive carbon fiber poles for the failed prototype, I tinkered for months with alternative designs until stumbling upon what worked, far better than I had hoped.

As soon as I showed anybody the design, all told me to keep it under wraps until I applied for a patent. I did that in a provisional filing, enjoying the little ego stroke that comes from giving the government money to file away a formal statement of how clever you think you’ve been. The lawyers said it was well-written, even, for a non-lawyer. I told myself at the time that I was trying to wrap the idea in a protective container so some entrepreneur could safely buy and manufacture it. I didn’t think I would be involved directly in anything so quixotic as a hammock stand company.

Soon came to my attention a 2011 photograph published on the Hennessy Hammock web site’s Letters page showing a pair of remarkably similar structures on an airfield:

I set out to find the person responsible for this, using the aircraft’s markings to look up the registration. Pilot Leonard Jensen designed and built those two, enjoying them briefly before stashing away with no further action. I admit I felt a pang of disappointment that the photo had been published, since the prior existence of so similar a design put a big hole in the side of my provisional patent claims. Leonard shared more detailed photos of his creation recently, built for the ages in heavy aircraft aluminum:

Meanwhile, Cheryl and I teamed up to evolve my expensive, fragile (but really light) prototype into a viable product. Known as Raftingtigger on Hammock Forums for energy levels reminiscent of A.A. Milne’s Tigger, Cheryl was already busy making and selling hammock stands of her own design, so there was nothing too momentous about taking on a new design, just a lot of fun collaborating on the details. Our confidence buoyed by the enthusiastic reception of what I dubbed the “tensahedron” design in Hammock Forums, (now with over 150,000 views and over 1000 comments in the largest thread alone), we formed Tensa Outdoor, and we’ve been busier than expected ever since.

Thunda down unda

Just this week, another bomb dropped in the origin story. Not only weren’t we the first, neither was Leonard. Earlier still there was a whole product line built around essentially the same concept, a stunning example of convergent evolution. From the crypt of dead websites, circa 2007-2012, the Wayback Machine, comes The Aussie Anchor, available in six fantastic colours:

It’s slightly terrifying that the company shuttered, of course. It’s like finding the dessicated corpse of the twin sibling you never knew you had in an attic crawlspace. Are we next? Cockiness is no asset. While I can rattle off half a dozen ways our realization is better, it’s also more expensive. I prefer to think the Aussie Anchor was merely ahead of its time. I have more than once been involved in commercial endeavors where this was the case, a pioneer laboring in fields that, a decade or more later, afford others more success. Hammocking has come a long way in popularity since, with crucial developments like underquilts, more generous cuts, structural ridgelines and so on becoming common, raising the waterline for all.

It can’t have helped that shipping their less-compact product outside of Australia was no less costly than it is for us today to ship into Australia, while Australia’s entire population is roughly 60% that of California alone. At a time when hammocks seldom seemed serious alternatives to other sleeping arrangements, worthy of similar outlays, the product was priced well below ours. Knowing what it costs to make such things, I suppose profits were insufficient to carry on, let alone grow. Inventor Joe Askey-Doran of Tasmania: if you’re reading this, drop us a line please!

Massachusetts, 8 August 1876

Been there, done that:

Plunder gratefully

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, a harvest festival overlaid with colonial narratives about moments of peace between indigenous people and those who received asylum on this continent. I digress, but do read about Tisquantum, who helped the Pilgrims even after he escaped slavery from those same Pilgrims’ countrymen years earlier.

Hammocks were the bedding of the Taino people Columbus encountered, and of the tribes Amerigo Vespucci met all along the northeast South American coast, where hammocks remain normal bedding to this day. These people were conceived, born, bred, wed, healed and buried in their hammocks. Pressed for gold, the friendly Taino instead gave Columbus their most elegant technology, hamacas. In 500 years of obliviousness to the gift, the colonizer culture still thinks $1000 slabs of petrochemical foam offer the ultimate in sleeping comfort, while hammocks (ignorantly complicated with tippy spreader bars to look more like European beds) are regarded as summertime lawn furniture for the indolent rich.

Post-genocide, we can never know how many generations before Columbus’s encounter the people had risen above lumpen, filthy, critter-crawling beds in hammocks, all the ways how and to what geographic extent, but in the Caribbean they were hung from posts in their houses, not just to trees. Did they have stands? If three people from hammock-naive cultures conceived of this simple 4-pole design independently within little more than a decade, what could people who made hammocks their lifetime beds invent over centuries?

At a stone complex estimated to have housed 200 people, the Puerco Pueblo ruins in eastern Arizona, abandoned over a century before Columbus, are petroglyphs of mysterious meaning. One guess is that we are seeing looms. I see ancient alien hammock stand technology transfer.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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