Humans have twirled hoops around their bodies throughout history—for fun, as an element of dance, and as a dramatic or storytelling device. But an offhand remark from an Australian led to the ‘invention’ of the Hula-Hoop in 1958—and a global phenomenon.
Richard Knerr and Athur Melin had founded the Wham-O toy company ten years previously, operating out of Knerr’s family’s garage. Their first—and until 1957, only—product was a sling-shot. But that year, a visiting Australian mentioned that children twirled bamboo hoops around their waists in Australian physical education classes at school.
Wasting no time, Knerr and Melin put their resources into releasing a plastic hoop to the market as soon as possible. Naming it the Hula-Hoop – the first of many alliterating products for Wham-O, such as the Slip ‘n’ Slide and the Monster Magnet—the company employed U.S. national marketing and giveaways to kick start sales.
The result? The hula-hoop was a smash-hit—and by July 1958, had crossed over to become a full-blown-fad.
In less than four months, Wham-O sold twenty-five million hoops. At the peak, the manufacturers were spinning out 50,000 hoops a day. By the end of 1959, 100 million hoops had shipped, and in two years, sales reached more than 100 million units.
Despite the extraordinary success, the hoop inevitably fell to the floor and by the end of 1959, the fad had passed—but not before netting Wham-O $45 million in profit.
These pictures show the hoop being well and truly hula’d during the heady days of 1958.