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Hoopla! Iconic toy turns 50

It has been a half-century of gyrating-fun for Emeryville, California-based WHAM-O, the company that first patented the Hula Hoop on June 19, 1958.
June 20, 2008

It has been a half-century of gyrating-fun for Emeryville, California-based WHAM-O, the company that first patented the Hula Hoop on June 19, 1958.

While the use of hoop-like objects dates back to Ancient Egypt when children reportedly played with large hoops of died grapevines, the plastic US version invented by WHAM-O founders Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr brought the hoop design into mainstream western culture.

In 1957, an Australian company began making wood rings, which were sold for similar purposes in retail stores. The rings attracted the attention of WHAM-O founders Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin, and they decided to manufacture a plastic hoop in a variety of bright colors. Knerr and Melin spent the first few months in 1958 promoting the new Hula Hoop on the playgrounds of Southern California. The rest, as they say, is toy history.

Dovetailing nicely with the advent of rock ‘n roll and bebop and youth culture, WHAM-O sold more than 100 million units of the plastic hoops in the first year despite being criticized as an example of the ‘emptiness of American culture’ by the Soviet Union and banned in Japan.

While the Hula Hoop is still a staple of playtime, it has evolved to become a sporting good and a method of exercise as well. In fact, the Hula Hoop is featured as one of the exercise activities on Nintendo’s recently released Wii Fit.

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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