The HENNESSY HAMMOCK was invented by Tom Hennessy, an industrial designer living on Galiano Island off the west coast of Canada. Here, he tells his story:
This is a World War II surplus US army jungle hammock, similar to the one Tom Hennessy used as a teenager.
Tom’s first prototype in his mother’s backyard in Sarasota, Florida.
At the age of 16, I would make 200 mile, weekend bicycle trips out of Washington D.C. into the Appalachian Mountains. I carried a minimum of food & water, a light sleeping bag and a WWII surplus U.S. Army jungle hammock. I loved this old thing because it rolled up so small and weighed so little and had no poles or stakes, perfect for moving light and fast.
Later at university, I loaned my hammock to a “friend” who never returned it. As the years passed, I continued to miss that little piece of gear and finally decided to duplicate my old army hammock from memory during my winter vacation.
I purchased all the materials in Vancouver B.C. and flew to Florida to visit my mother, who had taught me to sew when I was 10 and still had her original 1949 sewing machine.
The duplicate of the army hammock took less than a day to finish. As I was cutting and sewing, I began to see ways to overcome some of the army hammock’s shortcomings.
The prototype needed to be more spacious inside to eliminate any sense of claustrophobia. It needed to be wider to allow resting or sleeping on the diagonal without curving your back. The netting had to be increased to improve air circulation and the weather fly needed to be adjustable and removable to create an open and airy feeling during good weather and yet close up for protection at night or during inclement weather.
Over the next six years I made over fifty different prototypes for my winter ventures into the Everglades, Costa Rica and Mexico.
The rectangular army shape evolved into a sleek diamond shape; the cord assemblies at each end disappeared to create more interior space by attaching the hammock fabric directly to the suspending ropes. A ridge line was built into the hammock providing a support for the netting and weather-fly and, more importantly, ensuring that the hammock would set with exactly the same curve each time it was set up.
And the most amazing feature, the side zipper was eliminated and replaced with a zipper-less entrance through the bottom of the hammock which snapped closed automatically, activated by your own bodyweight, as you lift your feet up through the entrance. Finally, a special fold was added at the entrance to provide a tight, overlapping seal. By the fall of 1998, it was finished. I could not add or subtract any features which would further simplify or improve the design. Camping without a tent was not only possible – it was amazingly comfortable!
Tom’s prototyping studio set up in an Everglades campground. “…I would cut and sew a new prototype every day and test it that night.”
In the morning, I would know what to do to make another improvement.
I would start again to cut and sew for that night’s new model. This went on for two weeks. More than fifty prototypes were produced in six years to complete this project.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
First, I demonstrated the product to Canadian and American Co-ops and they both enthusiastically decided to carry the Hennessy Hammock. Independent outdoor retailers almost immediately saw the potential for this product.
It has been on the market since May of 1999, and keeping up with demand has been our biggest challenge. We will increase production to meet an anticipated surge of sales in 2002.
It has been shown at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City with overwhelming interest from retailers, catalogues, and distributors. A week later, it was also shown at the outdoor show in Germany. The Europeans were more reserved, but did send me home with distributors for seven countries. We have Canadian and US Patents and we have filed for international patents.
New Zealand Design Studio…
I’ve finally found a quiet place to do some more designing. Over the last couple of years, people have made some valuable suggestions of ways we can improve Hennessy Hammocks. I must admit that the pressures of keeping everybody supplied with 8 models has dominated my time and made it almost impossible to get more than a few hours or days at a time to experiment with new ideas. I also find it difficult to focus on design in the Canadian winter when the days are short, cold and wet and the light is low.
And then I found the answer! The sun was hiding on the other side of the planet, so I got on an airplane and found another summer happening in New Zealand. I decided that two summers were better than one, bought a little cabin in the mountains in a town called Athol near Queenstown, have set up a design studio and have started prototyping as many ideas as I can. Hopefully by the time I leave at the end of February, I will have at least a couple of new accessories ready for testing, that will make Hennessy Hammocks even more versatile and comfortable.