Wall Street History
Oh, heck, it''s Christmas time, so let''s do something on the light
side.like the advent of the Hoola Hoop in 1958! Back in 1948,
Arthur "Spud" Melin and Richard Knerr founded the Wham-O
Manufacturing Co., with their first product being the Wham-O
Slingshot. They followed that up with the Pluto Platter in 1957,
which was modified in 1958 and renamed the Frisbee. Yes, the
two were on a roll.
Well, in the spring of ''58 they came across an Australian chap
who told them about a bamboo hoop that Australian
schoolchildren used while dancing, so Melin and Knerr went "Ah
ha!" and proceeded to get together with some scientists from the
polymers division at W.R. Grace & Co.
The scientists then designed a compound called Grex, a form of
polyethylene (a petroleum product which I believe was invented
by scientists at Phillips Petroleum.but don''t quote me on that),
that was molded into tubing, which when stapled end to end
formed a hoop. Pretty simple, eh? And so Melin and Knerr
dubbed it the Hoola Hoop.
Wham-O tested it in Southern California and the response was
unbelievable. So they began to market it nationwide, and then
throughout the world, and the rest is toy history.
In just four months time, some 25 million hoops were sold at
prices up to $3 each (most retailed between $1.50 and $2.00).
[One factor that led to the success was the fact that many adults
were attracted to it as well.] But since the Wham-O hoop wasn''t
a true invention, with early records of this contraption going back
to Hawaii (thus the name "Hoola Hoop"), and possibly before
that to ancient Egypt, competitors flooded into the market. At
the peak of the fad about 20 other manufacturers were producing
hoops as quickly as they could.
Celanese Corp., a maker of chemical products, received
numerous calls from customers who wanted to order its Fortiflex
product, a polyethylene derivative. One of them was Universal
Boning Co., an outfit that made petticoats (this is 1958,
remember) and used hoops to make them stick out. We''ll get
into the Hoola Hoop craze, they said, and began to market the
Jingle Hoop, a device that made a "semi-musical" sound.
Zchwing! [Actually, I have no idea what it was.] Jingle was in
no time turning out 6,000 hoops a day.
Others that entered the craze marketed their products under
names like "Whoop De Do," "Hoop Zing," "Hooper-Dooper"
and "Spin-A-Hoop" (manufactured by Art Linkletter). But
Wham-O, being first, still was able to control half the market
and, worldwide, total hoop sales approached 100 million the first
The Hoola Hoop craze died out quickly, but there were certainly
more than enough around for years so it wasn''t unusual to see
kids still playing with them well into the 1960s (as was the case
with your editor). As for Wham-O, after being acquired by
Mattel in the mid-90s, they are once again independent and
headquartered in San Francisco.
And while my mind is on 1958, what else happened that year that
has something to do with money? Well.
The cost of a first class stamp rose from 3 to 4 cents, and Arnold
Palmer was golf''s leading money winner, taking in a cool
Next week, the story of the SuperBall and what it has to do with
"America''s Century," edited by John Kirshon
"The New York Times Century of Business," Floyd Norris and
"Toys," Don Wulffson