The history of hula hoops
Learn how this iconic toy became a household name.Hula hoops have been a part of American culture for years. Children across the country and the globe have spent countless hours turning the hoops on their hips, having contests with their friends to see who could hula the longest and generally having a good time with this favorite toy. The history of hula hoops goes back longer than most of us realize. Here is a closer look at how this iconic toy became a household name.
The concept of the hula hoop goes back to ancient history. Egyptian and Greek children propelled hoops made of grape vines across the ground with sticks.
In the fourteenth century, hooping - or spinning hoops - made of sticks and grass, was popular in England until the British began to blame the game for heart attacks and back disorders.
Later, Eskimos rolled hoops and as they spun, attempted to throw poles through their centers. The game was practical as well as fun as it taught children the elements required for harpooning and other hunting.
Native Indians used a hoop to teach accuracy in shooting arrows and among the Lakota Indians, hoop dancing became a sophisticated art form still practiced today.
In the early nineteenth century, the practice of spinning hoops got its name from soldiers who visited Hawaii and added the word hula after noticing the similarity between hula dancing and tripping hoops.
The Rise of the Hula Hoop
In 1957, the founders of the Wham-O toy company, Richard Knerr and Arthur 'Spud' Melin, reinvented the hula hoop. The idea for the toy came from an Australian who told Californians Knerr and Melin that children in his country twirled bamboo hoops around their waists in gym class.
Knerr and Melin made the new hula hoops from durable plastic but unfortunately, Wham-O could not patent the 'new' toy as it was already in existence. The company had to battle with other manufacturers for sales, eventually trademarking the name hula hoop.
Initially, they marketed the hula hoop by traveling to parks and showing children how to use it and in 1958; they released the new hoop and sold over 100 million hula hoops in two years. It is interesting to note that Billy Joel's song "We Didn't Start the Fire" referenced the sale of the millionth hula hoop as one of the most significant events of 1959. Wham-O struck gold again in later years when they released the Frisbee.
Not everyone appreciated the hula hoop. In the late 1950s Japan banned it, believing the hip rotations required to move it 'obscene.' In Russia, they believed the hula hoop was a symbol of the "emptiness of American culture."
In the late 1960s Wham-O held a national competition to renew the interest in their product and in 1983, the company re-launched the hula hoop a third time in Europe holding competitions in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Competing is a favorite pastime for hula hoop enthusiasts. On June 4, 2005, Australian Kareena Oates won the world record for using the most hoops at once. She was able to spin 100 hula hoops for three full turns. This record was overturned in 2006 by Alesya Goulevich of Belarus and again in October 0f 2007 by Jin Linlin of China who spun 105 hoops at the same time.
Hula hoops are still available in toy stores across the country. Updated versions are filled with glitter, water and even noisemakers adding a new dimension to this popular pastime. It appears that hula hoops are here to stay!