Fads are not an easy thing to explain, especially to future generations. Take a kid who is accustomed to being surrounded by computers and gaming consoles and try to get them to understand the impact that a simple ring of plastic could have on the populace and you are likely to be met with the blankest of stares. They might even accuse you of making the story up. But truth is often stranger than fiction and the truth is, this single ring of plastic known as the Hula Hoop was something that, at one time, was the most coveted toy in existence. Its popularity transcended both gender and age and got a whole generation to gyrate their hips (and other body parts) with reckless abandon. Let’s go back in time.
The year was 1958 and two men, Arthur ‘Spud’ Melin and Richard Knerr were running a small toy business out of their garage in Southern California called Wham-O. They were primarily making slingshots when an encounter with a friend, who just returned from an Australian vacation, would change their lives forever. It would seem that this friend had witnessed children spinning bamboo hoops around their waists for exercise purposes and he thought it might make for a good toy. The toy makers were intrigued. It wasn’t an original idea by any means; these hoop devices had a history dating back to the Egyptians and would find their way into a number of other civilizations along the way. A patent was deemed unlikely so they put their focus on coming up with a catchy name that they could trademark. Noticing that the hip gyrations were similar to Hawaiian dance movements, they dubbed their creation the “Hula Hoop.”
Publicity events were coordinated across the playgrounds of Southern California to show kids just how much fun they could have with a plastic ring. Free Hula Hoops were even handed out so they could entice their friends with their new toy. The kids loved them and, beyond Wham-O’s wildest dreams, the Hula Hoop craze spread like a rampant virus. They would sell 25-million in the first four months and over 100-million over the course of the next two years. It would appear that every person, adult and child, male and female, was trying to discover just how long they could keep a Hula Hoop spinning and how many they could control simultaneously – as the nation succumbed to a Hula Hoop frenzy of epic proportions.
Like all fads, the Hula Hoop would eventually diminish in popularity, especially with the introduction of another iconic toy from Wham-O called a Frisbee. Hula Hoop popularity would enjoy resurgence in the 60’s, however, with a national Hula-Hoop competition that was initially held in 500 U.S. cities and by the 1980s, had spread to over 2,000 cities and boasted over 2 million participants.
Today, the Hula Hoop may have stepped aside for more sophisticated toys but it hasn’t disappeared entirely. Some kids still fall prey to the seductive allure of the spinning plastic, not realizing that they are dancing the dance of generations past and paying homage to one of the biggest and most successful fads that has ever emerged from the toy industry.
Do you have any any Hula Hoop stories to share with us? We welcome your memories in our comments section, as we bow our heads in reverence to the hallowed Hula Hoops of yesteryear, here at Retroland.