Friday, June 18, 2010

The Hula Hoop Craze

It was a fad of the 50s. And most Baby Boomers remember them well. In fact, most of us had one, or more. I remember well the evening my family went out to buy three of them. One each for my two sisters. And one for me.

Being younger than I was, neither of my sisters was very in tune with what was cool. And they were perfectly happy to settle for a big, fat, hot pink, or electric blue plastic version. Since I was so much cooler than they were, I wasn’t going to settle for a run-of-the-mill pastic one. I had my sights set higher — stainless steel, and only about a half inch in diameter. Thin and sleek.

Of course, I didn’t take into account how un-cool I was going to look swinging my bony hips around to try to keep the thing going. But my mind was made up. And my parents must have driven to at least a dozen stores before we found one. And I was happy at last. Spoiled, but happy.

We didn't think to ask, and we weren't really concerned with where the things came from. But now that we're older, we want to know. The whole hula hoop craze actually began way back in 1957. And it didn’t actually start in this country.

It started in Australia, where Coles department store sold hoops made of bamboo. Unfortunately, the demand outpaced their supplier’s ability to keep up with the orders.

Enter Alex Tolmer, the founder of Toltoys. His company began manufacturing them from plastic, and sold 400,000 of them in 1957. They were marketed in the U.S. in 1958 by Melin and Knerr of Wham-O. They sold 100 million of them that summer. But by October of that year, the craze suddenly died. (I wonder who made the stainless steel beauty I owned.)

After the fad ran its course, another one began. Wham-O hit the jackpot again when they introduced America to the Frisbee. But that’s another story for another time.

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