Happy Birthday, Hula Hoop! A retro renovation re-run

June 19, 2008 was the Hula Hoop’s 50th birthday. I am a born-to-hula hooper, a California girl. My favorite was the shoop shoop hula hoop. One of my proudest moments in the past few years was beating a 17-year-old at a company picnic hula hoop contest in a final-death elimination round that involved the TWO hula hoops. That is hard, let me tell you – and I whooped him after decades of minimal hula hoop practice.  It’s important to know you’ve still got it — and to leave your coworkers astounded as you reveal yet more new, amazing talents every day.

Here is the WHAM-O press release, as it is essential we get the complete corporate retrospective:

WHAM-O(R), Inc., the originator of innovative outdoor fun, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of one its most popular and iconic toys, the legendary Hula Hoop(R). Officially born (filed for trademark) on June 19th, 1958 by WHAM-O co-founders Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr, the Hula Hoop continues to evoke the same energy, emotion and excitement in “kids” of all ages that it has for the past five decades on the beaches, backyards and playgrounds of America.

“It is extraordinary to see such a simple and fundamental product continue to evoke the passions of kids and adults alike over the course of so many years,” said Mojde Esfandiari, WHAM-O’s President and CEO. “The Hula Hoop has inspired millions of children and adults to express themselves in new and imaginative ways, and will forever have its place as a part of pop culture, embodying the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades American history.”

The use of hoop-like objects dates back to Ancient Egypt when children played with large hoops of dried grapevines, but it was not until the 1500’s in England, when the first official “hooping” craze hit western society. Over three centuries later, the term “hula” was first connected with the hip-shakin’ hoop when British missionaries explored the Hawaiian Islands during the 18th and 19th centuries and noticed a striking similarity between the swaying hip motions of the hula dancers to the motions of an individual using the popular hoops.

In 1957, an Australian company began making wood rings, which were sold 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 where they gave away hoops and “wowed” the local children and their parents with demonstrations of their gravity-defying toy. (READ ON, BELOW)

Within months of the Hula Hoop’s unveiling, the entrepreneurs’ simple hoop had ignited the greatest fad the country has ever seen, and during the first four months after its introduction, WHAM-O sold more than 25 million Hula Hoops. The demand for the Hula Hoop continued to grow at such a rapid rate that in 1958, even though WHAM-O was producing 20,000 hoops per day, WHAM-O halted production of its other toys in order to produce more Hula Hoops to keep up with the demand.

The Hula Hoop craze swept across the nation as people of all ages clamored for the hoops that became more than just a toy. The Hula Hoop quickly grew into a cultural phenomenon that went hand-in-hand with the hip-gyrating, rock ‘n roll and bebop music of the time, to the point that Japan banned the hoops thinking they might promote impropriety and the Soviet Union called the Hula Hoop an example of the “emptiness of American culture.”

Having sold more than 100 million hoops in the first year, the craze of 1958 began to fade and in 1965, WHAM-O re-launched the Hula-Hoop with several ball bearings trapped inside its hollow tubing to create the “Shoop-Shoop” Hula-Hoop, named for the sound made by the tiny ball bearings as they raced around the hoop. The sound instantly became synonymous with the Hula-Hoop.

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 as a form of self-expression in many ways. As a true testament to its time-tested popularity, the Hula Hoop is featured as one of the exercise activities on Nintendo’s recently released Wii Fit.

In addition to the Hula Hoop’s 50th year, 2008 also marks the 60th year since childhood friends and University of Southern California college students Arthur “Spud” Melin and Richard Knerr founded WHAM-O as a leading designer/distributor of innovative, high-quality recreational activity products. Six decades later, WHAM-O continues to provide endless hours of affordable, creative, interactive outdoor fun through its iconic line-up of imaginative toys that includes Hula Hoop(R), Slip ‘N Slide(R), Frisbee(R), SuperBall(R) and Hacky Sack(R), to name a few.

– end –

Finally, one of strangest videos I’ve ever seen. A truly amazing cultural remnant:

This post originally ran June 20, 2008

  1. My FIL’s wife was formerly married to Richard Knerr, one of the founders of Wham-o. She has told amusing stories of street marketing the hula hoop in its early days…back when she was properly attired in a sheath dress, stockings and gloves for outdoor publicity events – at the beach, even.

  2. Amy says:

    oh my! I had a blue one in the 1970’s – my sister had a yellow one, we used ours all the time.

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