Classic Toys: The Hula Hoop
A “Hula Hoop” is a toy made from a plastic tube that can be twirled around a person’s waist, arms, legs or neck. The idea of the Hula Hoop has been around for a very long time and its massive popularity assures it will always be a favorite form of entertainment.
The first plastic Hula Hoop may have been produced and marketed in 1957, but the concept behind the toy is thousands of years old. The ancient Greeks exercised with a hoop made of vines over 3,000 years ago, Egyptian children played with them and Native Americans used a similar hoop device for target practice.
Hoop toys were popular in Great Britain since the Middle Ages. Typically, they were made of willow, grapevines or grasses. The name supposedly originated with British sailors in the early 19th century while watching Hawaiian people do the hula dance. Because the hula dance resembled the movements made while playing with the toy, “hula” was eventually applied to it, giving us the “Hula Hoop”.
No one can claim credit for inventing the Hula Hoop, but we know the first manufacturer was David Tolmer, founder of Toltoys of Australia. Department and toy stores had been selling Hula Hoops that were made out of bamboo, when he decided to create a plastic version of the toy. Tolmer began manufacturing plastic tubing hoops in 1957 and sold 400,000 units. The trademarked name “Hula Hoop” was given to the hoop by the founders of the Wham-O toy company, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin who started marketing them in the U.S. in 1958. They were unable to patent the idea of the Hula Hoop since it was such an ancient concept.
The original price for a Hula Hoop was $1.98. A craze began in 1958 and Wham-O sold an estimated 100 million Hula Hoops their first year. But the frenzy quickly fizzled out. In 1968, with the hope of reigniting the popularity of the Hula Hoop, Wham-O sponsored The National Hula Hoop Contest along with the National Parks & Recreation Network. Starting with 500 U.S. cities the first year, it was renamed the World Hula Hoop Championships with 2,000 cities participating by 1980. Some of the moves executed in competitions have names such as the Knee Knocker, Upsy Daisy, Wrap the Mummy and Hula Hop.
Hula Hoops measure about 40 inches in diameter and have a ball inside to provide the “Shoop-Shoop” sound as you use the toy. Today Wham-O offers Hula Hoops in three sizes and in many colors. They even make a foldable Hula Hoop, called the “Fold-A-Hoop Hula Hoop”. There are many imitators of the Wham-O Hula Hoop as other manufacturers look to cash in on the popular toy.