Susan Olivia Davis Poole, inventor (born 18 April 1889 in Devils Lake, North Dakota; died 10 October 1975 in Ganges, BC). Olivia Poole was raised on the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. There, she was inspired by the traditional practice of using a bouncing cradleboard to soothe babies. In 1957, she patented her invention of the baby jumper, under the name Jolly Jumper, making her one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to patent and profit from an invention.
A young Olivia Poole.
Early Life and Education
Susan Olivia Davis was born to Miles Franklin Davis and Charlotte Warren in Devils Lake, North Dakota. She spent her childhood on White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
Olivia was a talented pianist and went on to study music at Brandon College in Manitoba. While in Manitoba, she met Delbert Poole and the two were married in 1909. They had seven children together, first moving to Ontario before settling in Vancouver in 1942.
Invention of the Jolly Jumper
On White Earth Reservation, Olivia Poole saw mothers using cradleboards as baby carriers. Cradleboards allowed mothers and caregivers greater freedom to work or perform their daily routine while their baby was safely secured on the board. Some mothers suspended cradleboards from a sturdy tree branch or structure to act as a hammock or swing, providing the baby with amusement. Poole witnessed mothers pulling on the ropes or leather straps suspending the cradleboard to bounce the baby up and down. This allowed mothers to work uninterrupted while the babies entertained themselves with the bouncing motion.
Mary Butler with her infant Lyda in a traditional cradle, probably on Makah Indian Reservation – 1900.
In 1910, after Poole had her first baby, she remembered how mothers on White Earth Reservation used this cradleboard technique to calm their babies. By this time, she was living in Ontario and did not have a cradleboard of her own. Instead, she fashioned one with items from around her house. She sewed a cloth diaper into a harness and created a brace with an axe handle. This device was different than a cradleboard, as the baby’s legs dangled freely and there was no rectangular board attached. Eventually, she added a spring and rubber connection so that the baby could bounce on its own. Her swing was low enough for the baby’s toes to reach the ground, allowing the baby to exercise its leg muscles.
Poole called her invention the “Jolly Jumper” and she used it for all seven of her children. When her children were grown, she continued to make improvements to the baby jumper design for her grandchildren. Given its success within the family, Poole’s family convinced her to market her invention. By the early 1950s, Poole’s Jolly Jumper went into mass production for retail. Her eldest son, Joseph, helped her file and apply for a patent in 1957 where her invention is called the “Baby Supporter and Exerciser.” Together, they created Poole Manufacturing Co. Ltd. which was based in British Columbia. The Poole family sold the business in the 1960s but today the Jolly Jumper brand is owned by a company based in Mississauga, Ontario.
Death and Legacy
Olivia Poole died from pneumonia complications on 10 October 1975 in Ganges, British Columbia. She was one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to patent an invention and her story has been featured in two children’s books: How to Become an Accidental Genius (2019) by Frieda Wishinsky and Elizabeth MacLeod and Canadian Women Now and Then: More than 100 Stories of Fearless Trailblazers (2020) by Elizabeth MacLeod.
A Toronto Star article from July 1962 reported that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of then-US President John F. Kennedy, was photographed in the jumper and referred to the jumper as a “lifesaver” for mothers.