Hula Hooping became one of the biggest fads in North America when it was released by Wham-O in 1958, quickly capturing the imagination of children and adults alike. Despite competition from a myriad of knockoffs, the company managed to sell a whopping 25 million hoops that year before their popularity waned.
While the craze ended, the hip-swiveling toy never entirely faded away and still enjoys a loyal fanbase to this day.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hula Hoop has re-emerged as a fitness trend, thanks in great part to social media. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal profiled how stir-crazy adults have incorporated “hooping” into their fitness routines. More than one million Hula Hoops were sold in 2020, a 20% increase over the previous two years, according to InterSport Corporation, the company that markets Wham-O products in North America.
While there are various origin stories about how it arrived in the United States via southern California, most agree it was inspired by a wooden hoop spinning game in the South Pacific. Arthur “Spud” Melin, one of Wham-O’s founders, directed the company to manufacture the toy out of a newly developed plastic from Phillips Petroleum called Marlex. Wham-O trademarked the name Hula Hoop and began demonstrating it outdoors. The toy quickly went viral and hoop-mania was born through a combination of shrewd marketing, television exposure, and word-of-mouth.
Despite the wild popularity of the Hula Hoop dying out just as quickly as it began, Melin applied for a patent for Wham-O’s version of the hoop toy in 1959 and eventually received an official U.S. Patent number in 1963. Armed with the patent, Wham-O relaunched the Hula Hoop with a unique catchphrase that called out imitators: “If it’s not Wham-O, it’s not a Hula Hoop!”
The company further invigorated the line by incorporating beads into the toy’s hollow plastic tubing, creating a pleasing sound that inspired the Shoop-Shoop Hula Hoop product name.
Hall of Famer
The Hula Hoop was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, a testament to its multi-generational appeal and versatility as a fitness tool.
Fun fact: In November 2019, Chicagoan Jenny Doan set a new world record for the longest marathon hula-hooping session: 100 hours!
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.