Many of the world’s most popular toys have owed their success to the minds of forward thinking entrepreneurs as well as the toy’s inventors. The famous Hula Hoop is no exception to this rule. Having been called the “Grandfather of American Fads”, the Hula Hoop yielded amazing success to the inventor and entrepreneur responsible for its introduction into American toy markets.
Through out the ages, many people and mostly children have played with hoops made from vines, or wood. In ancient Greece it was considered an excellent form of exercise. Twirling and rolling the hoop was a popular activity for children for centuries, although its was reported to cause strains, sprains, and heart attacks in the fourteenth century.
This may seem odd to accuse a harmless round object or such afflictions, but one must assume that in the fourteenth century, a time of great religious oppression, the toy may have caused clergy to have heart attacks due to the “licentiousness nature” of the hoop. Fortunately fun is not considered a fatal affliction any more.
How did this ancient object become a common place toy for American households? To find out we will have to take a look at the inventor and the entrepreneur who made the Hula Hoop a household name. Those responsible are none other than the Frisbee inventor, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin. Having the Frisbee under his belt, Knerr seemed to be predestined to capitalize on the circle as a toy.
They founded the Wham-O Company in the late 1950‘s after hearing an Australian speak of the way hoops were twirled around the waist in Australian schools to promote exercise and good health. Immediately Melin and Knerr saw how this could be marketed as a new toy in the United States. Proof came when they fashioned hoops made out of hollow plastic tubes and had schoolchildren test them. The kids loved them.
A year later, hula hoop, named after the popular Hawaiian dance, was marketed to a national audience. Adults were hooked on the fun and often times hilarious new toy making its way onto many public beaches. Although they could not patent the object that had been around for years, they did re-invent the venerable hoop into a major successful toy that many still enjoy today. Considering the modifications made to the device, it is most likely they deserved a patent, at least on their design.
Anyone who has seen the movie The Hudsucker Proxy may remember Tim Robbins’ character constantly showing people his invention, a circle drawn on paper. An invention he explained was, “Ya know, for kids”. This running gag was probably inspired by these two fathers of the modern hula hoop.
The Hula hoop stands as a great example of fine entrepreneurial power coupled with inventiveness, and is still enjoyed by young and old alike. One need only look to the two founders of the Wham-O company to see the possibilities are endless and even a silly circle can make you wealthy, with the right partnership.
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