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Hula Hoop turns 50

Posted Saturday, June 28, 2008, at 2:53 PM

One of my best blogger buddies sent me another item from the Seattle paper, and it sure brings back memories! The date was 1958, and a round piece of plastic called the "Hula Hoop" was all the rage! In the photo, two lingerie models are illustrating the use of the "new" toys at a show in Frankfurt, Germany.

I can't believe it's been 50 years since I first tried to get my hips to swivel inside that plastic ring! If I had kept it up all these years, I'd certainly be in better shape than I am now.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Hula Hoop was invented and developed by entrepeneurs Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin. Knerr died earlier this year; Merlin, his boyhood friend, died in 2002. It seems that their invention was based on a similar toy that had been popular in Australia.

The two men started a company called Wham-O, which sold 100 million Hula Hoops the first year they were on the market. Even in the late fifties, the $1.98 suggested price was considered reasonable. There was reportedly a Hula Hoop for every two Americans in those simple years.

One thing I found funny was that the former Soviet Union banned the Hula Hoops, labeling them symbols of the "emptiness of American culture." Ha! Who's laughing now, Kruschev??

I'm not sure when the round piece of Americana went bust, but it very nearly took Wham-0 with it, before they came up with another perennial favorite - the Frisbee, the favorite toy of my border collie Sassy.

Wham-0 stopped manufacturing Hula Hoops (storing their enormous supply in a warehouse somewhere, I gather) until 1965, when the two developers came up with the idea to add ball bearings in the cylinder to make a "shooshing" sound! Haha! That's the one that I found down in the basement... (I'm sure I haven't had it since 1958!)

Wham-0 is also the marketer for the popular Slip 'N Slide, which absolutely beat the stuffing out of my kids when they were young!

There's something sweet and innocent about a toy which requires no batteries, has no mechanized voice blasting at you, no viewing screen - and has to employ a kid's hips, hands, feet, etc... In other words - a toy that has to be operated!

Lori Gregory, Knerr's daughter said, "My father always believed the more simple a toy was, the better it was. If he brought home a toy and we couldn't figure out how to play with it, he figured it wasn't any good."

Well, Happy 50th anniversary, Hula Hoop! I'm sure you'll be around several hundred more years with roller skates and Slinkies!

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I never could get the hang of the hula hoop, I'm sorry to say. And I really, really wanted to do it! Same thing with ice skates. I guess I've just never been physically co-ordinated. Guess that's why I always made sure my kids got the chance to do stuff like that.

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 2:59 PM

Madeline - I find it rather dificult to believe that you are old enough to even remembrt the HULA HOOP> I was operating a Ben-Franklin store back in 1958, and the wholesale house added 6 dz, of these Hoops to my regular weekly order. On a Saturday afternoon we gave the first Hoop to a beautiful little 10 year old girl:- (It wasn't you was it?) Within 30 mintes we had young kids, and some not so young, standing in line to get one of them "Pieces of garden hose"

-- Posted by paulcorbin on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 8:24 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Paul Corbin, you are ever the perfect gentleman! I'm afraid though I quit having birthdays at 39, I am, indeed, old enough to remember the Hula Hoop! In fact, the 10-year-old couldn't have been me, as I remember being in my teens when the toy came out. My sister Kathy might have been about that age, however.

How about it, twin? Do you remember the hula hoop?

Oh, yes! I remember hoola hoops well. If I do say so myself, I was an absolute whiz with one. They were all the rage in my age group. They were also relatively cheap, so lots of kids could get one. It was very popular in my group to use multiple hoola hoops. We were wild and crazy kids.

Yes, Madeline. If we'd kept at it we would be in much better shape now. We can say that about a lot of other things from that era. The Twist comes to mind. There was also a gizmo that attached to one ankle and it had a bit of a plastic rope with a ball at the end. The object was to spin the ball around with the one foot and jump the little rope thing. Don't remember the name, but I enjoyed it too.

I'm afraid if I tried a hoola hoop now I'd fracture a hip.

-- Posted by mokath52 on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 9:31 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Oh, my, the twist! That was a good one - and it cost absolutely nothing!! I was a whiz at it, if I do say so myself! Once won a twist contest in college! Haha! Those were the days!

As for that thing with the ball and jump rope, you must have been double-jointed to have operated such a thing!

Hey, I'll bring that old Hula Hoop over with me on the 4th, and we'll see if Kristin can do it! She should still be young enough to get some action on that device!

Mr. Corbin, weren't you telling me about a toy hoop that you used to play with as a kid? However, I believe you rolled it with a stick, didn't you?

Well, I wanta know what kind of SKIRT that model on the right is wearing?? She looks like she's coming out of a pumpkin!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 9:56 PM

I doubt that Kruschev would laugh much these days, unless he rolls over in his grave... What a strange man! Remember how he banged on the speaker's stand with his shoe?? Who was he trying to impress, anyway??

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 10:00 PM

Hey! That 10 year old coulda been me! Let's see, nope, I was 7 in 1958, and I loved my hula hoop.

I remember walking from my house down to Weber's Ben Franklin to buy it. We spent many hours on my front sidewalk gyrating away! That and roller skating around the neighborhood with our skate keys around our necks.

And playing flashlight tag after dark. Back then, parents had to yell to get kids IN the house, not out of!

-- Posted by lovebooks on Sun, Jun 29, 2008, at 2:33 PM

Hahaha! So true, lovebooks! I was gonna mention those magic skate keys! They were better than a magic carpet!

Oh, yeah! Play in the neighborhood wi'cher friends till dark! Aw, no, we gotta go IN!! Do kids do that anymore??

And, hey, I saw TWO SIZES of brand new Hula Hoops at Dollar General today!! They're made of some sort of very shiny, light-weight material, almost like paper. Very light.

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Jun 29, 2008, at 3:42 PM

It seems to me, anymore, that the outside of toy boxes should read "physical operation not required." We've become such a lazy culture!

I loved my hula hoop! Mine was made of a lighter plastic...and I was actually pretty darn good at it! I got one for my boys last summer...but they ended up using it to pull each other around...boys will be boys!

-- Posted by mrsdolphin on Sun, Jun 29, 2008, at 8:54 PM

Hoola hoops were so cool. I loved mine. I hated having to go in, outside was so much more fun.

If you want your kids to use a hoola hoop these days, you'll have to hook it up to a wii game system or a computer.

-- Posted by Ducky on Mon, Jun 30, 2008, at 12:33 PM

Actually my 11 year old daughter had a hoola hoop for quite a while, maybe a couple of years, until it broke; ya know how kids are! She just loved it!!! She still asks for one...wonder why I never got another one... Anyway, I always loved the "swish-swoosh" sound that one made when you'd swivel your hips around inside it! Ah, simple toys that make for hours of fun...where have they gone? Maybe I should ask "Where have the imaginations of young children run off to these days?" Oh where we could go with that one!!!

-- Posted by huxgirl28 on Mon, Jun 30, 2008, at 10:53 PM

The Hula Hoop, Frisbie, Yo-Yo, Spin Top, etc., were all great, and they never needed batteries to keep going. Also, in that category is large used truck tire inner tubes that we used when playing in lakes. I recently saw a documentary from 1971 and something seemed odd. Afterwards it struck me that there wasn't a single obese person in the film. It got me to thinking, and I can't remember any kids when I was in school who were even particularly overweight. But at that time kids spent a lot of their free time playing physically for enjoyment. So it seems that there must be a causal relationship between kids now spending much/most of their free time engaged in sedentary activities and the epidemic of obesity that has occurred in the last 25 years or so among kids. I think that it is almost a form of child abuse for a parent to to allow an obese child to stuff food down his or her mouth -- not to say that they allowed the condition to occur in the first place.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sat, Jul 5, 2008, at 2:41 PM

There are too many fascinating sedentary games for kids nowadays. So many of them don't want to go outside.

And, it doesn't help that the schools had to cut out physical education as a required course - since they had to spend so much time preparing the kids for State-mandated tests.

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Jul 8, 2008, at 6:17 PM

Yes GL! I read recently that there are grade schools cutting out recess! That is 100% totally absolutely insane!!

-- Posted by FJGuy on Tue, Jul 8, 2008, at 7:50 PM

GL, I don't know about you but I gained absolutely nothing from physical education. I can't think of anything it taught me or any way that it helped me.

-- Posted by I.B. Le Truth on Wed, Jul 9, 2008, at 12:11 AM

Well, I used to feel the same way, I.B., but look what's happened to our kids, now that we don't have P.E. The obesity rate is phenominal. I'm not saying that it's the only cause, but I'm just saying that there might be a connection.

I read something the other day about the addictive qualities of the processed fat that McD's and the others serve. And look what happened to the Japanese when they introduced American food to their country.

Our kids have gotten hit from all directions.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Jul 9, 2008, at 10:00 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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