Hula Hoop turns 50

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It’s hard to believe in an age of action-packed video games and other whiz-bang gadgets, but the Hula Hoop once was the hippest toy around.

The hoopla began 50 years ago this week when entrepreneurs Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin sought a trademark for a plastic cylinder based on a similar toy that had enjoyed modest success in Australia’s school yards.

Before long, the Hula Hoop had more hips swiveling than Elvis Presley.

Wham-O Inc., the company founded by Knerr and Melin, sold more than 100 million Hula Hoops — at a suggested retail price of $1.98 apiece — after just a year on the U.S. market.

“It became a real piece of Americana,” said toy historian Tim Walsh, whose book about Wham-O is scheduled to be published in October.

 

The Hula Hoop became so ubiquitous that the former Soviet Union banned the toy as a symbol of the “emptiness of American culture.”

Not long after that, the Hula Hoop became a glaring example of the toy industry’s now familiar boom-and-bust cycles.

Almost as quickly as they became a household staple, millions of Hula Hoops began collecting cobwebs in garages across the country.

“The Hula Hoop was the granddaddy of all fads,” said Chris Guirlinger, Wham-O’s vice president of marketing and licensing.

Hula Hoop’s downward spiral would have ruined Wham-O but for another off-beat toy it developed: the Frisbee.