If you've ever traveled past a used car lot or a store that's going out of business, you've probably seen one of the more popular means businesses use to attract attention. What are we talking about? Those tall, inflatable, tubular gizmos, of course!

Is that what they're really called? Not exactly. They don't have an official name, unless you're talking about a specific brand. But they go by all sorts of different names.

For example, you may hear them called by any of the following names: tube men, tube guys, tall boys, flyguys, air dancers, etc. The television show Family Guy famously dubbed them "wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men."

You probably already know what they look like. If not, just imagine a tall, inflatable tube (sort of like a giant wind sock) with arms and a funny face. A fan attached to the bottom blows air upward, so that it will gyrate up and down and side to side.

They're certainly good at attracting attention. Kids often find them funny, while many adults think they're annoying or tacky. In fact, many cities, including Houston, Texas, have banned them, calling them "visual clutter and blight."

So how did these things come to be? Given what they've turned into, many people are surprised to find out that they got their start as a form of artistic expression at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

Peter Minshall, an artist from Trinidad and Tobago known for his artwork for carnivals, designed huge inflatable tube figures for the 1996 Olympics. He called them "tall boys" and, unlike the tube men we see today, his creations had two legs.

Minshall's designs came to life with the help of Israeli artist Doron Gazit, who built them. After the Olympics, Gazit patented the tall boys, which he called "flyguys" and his patent application called an "Apparatus and Method for Providing Inflated Undulating Figures."

Others soon made their own versions of tube men, eventually leading to the single-tube design seen so often today. Unfortunately, the novelty has worn off and the many bans across the country have put a dent in the popularity of tube men.

Not all is lost, however. As it turns out, tube men have a very practical application that may ensure their existence far into the future. When outfitted with reflective streamers, tube men make very effective scarecrows that can keep birds away from farms, warehouses, vineyards, landfills, or anywhere else that wants to keep pesky birds and other critters away.

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