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The Hula Hoop fad of the 1960’s

Girl hula hoop 1963

Hula Hoop 1959

Hula Hoops, the round hoop toy that is twirled around the waist, arms, legs, and neck, became popular in the late 1950’s when a new, improved plastic version was marketed by California’s Wham-O toy company. The toy, however, could not be patented because “hoop” toys were an ancient invention.

Ancient Hula Hoops

Hoop toys in ancient times

Greeks used “hooping” as a form of exercise and in 1000 AD, Egyptian children played with large hoops made of dried grapevine. The toy was rolled along the ground using a stick or swung around the waist to see how many times it could be swung before hitting the ground.

Around 1300, hooping became immensely popular in Great Britain. Homemade versions of the hoop were especially popular until Government officials began discouraging their use because of many reports of injuries (doctor records from that era confirm hurt backs and heart attacks).

Children with hoops toys

Native Indians used hoops made of reeds to teach arrow shooting accuracy. Several Native American tribes used the hoop in their Native American Hoop Dance events. One to thirty hoops were used in the Native American Hoop Dances as a form of storytelling. The hoops were swung around the body in a very rapid dance. Off-body use of the hoops in Native American Hoop Dancing were used to illustrate the story by constructing symbolic forms, such as animals, around their body.

In 1880, British sailors witnessed hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands. Since the hula dance moves looked like hooping, they coined the term “hula hoop”.

The Invention of the modern Hula Hoop

Girl twirling a Hula hoop, 1958

In 1957, the modern hula hoop was invented. Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin were introduced to Australian bamboo “exercise hoops”. Australians used the hoops in school gym classes and the wooden rings were sold in retail stores for home use. Seeing the promise for a successful American toy using this same principle, they set out to manufacture 42-inch plastic hoops for retail sale.

Around this time, Phillips Petroleum invented a new high-density polyethylene plastic they named Marlex. Used to manufacture milk jugs, the lightweight but durable plastic was a perfect fit for the new hula hoop toy. Production of the Hula Hoop began in Titusville, Pennsylvania by Skyline Plastics, a division of Phillips Petroleum.

Knerr and Melin named the toy Hula Hoop (other names considered included Swinga-Hoop and Twirl-A-Hoop). They found that the toy could not be patented because it was such an ancient concept.

Wham-O Original hula-hoop is back advertisement

Wham-O fought various knockoff products after the initial introduction of the Hula Hoop. Marketing played a crucial role in the Hula Hoop’s success. The toy was promoted at Southern California parks and playgrounds. Giveaways and public demonstrations were used to ignite demand for the new product. Throughout the Hula Hoop craze, Wham-O promoted Hula Hoop contests, exhibitions, and demonstrations of new Hula Hoop tricks.

The Fad took off in July of 1958. Twenty-five million Hula Hoops were sold in the first few months. Two-year sales totaled one hundred million units. At their peak, Wham-O was manufacturing 20,000 Hula Hoops per day.

As Britain had done centuries earlier, some countries discouraged the use of the new toy. Japan felt the moves required to hoop were too suggestive while Russia denounced the Hula Hoop as an example of the “emptiness of American culture.”

According to the New York Times, the Hula Hoop “remains the standard against which all national crazes are measured.”

Classic Hula Hoop advertisements during the craze

Check out the classic Hula Hoop advertisements in the picture gallery below.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Girl twirling a Hula hoop, 1958 via Wikipedia Commons by George Garrigues with usage type - Public Domain
Wham-O Original hula-hoop is back advertisement via Smithsonian Magazine with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Hula Hoop 1959 via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain. 17 January 1959
Girl hula hoop 1963 via Pinterest with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)

Featured Image Credit

Girl hula hoop 1963 via Pinterest with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)


1 thought on “The Hula Hoop fad of the 1960’s

  1. Hey Kyle. How come you didn’t like Geek Slop? Was the Hula Hoop article bad?

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