Iconic toy company Wham-O is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The company founded by Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin has sold more than 200 unique items during its history, many of which have had an indelible impact on the memories of children.
While the Frisbee and Hula Hoop are National Toy Hall of Fame inductees, here I focus on five of the more obscure, over-the-top, and quirky entries from Wham-O’s historic catalog.
Nope, not Sea Monkeys. Purportedly inspired by one or both of the company’s founders’ trips to Africa, Instant Fish were a species of killifish native to that continent whose eggs survived dehydration.
Kids filled the Aquarama Tank with water, dropped in the included container of mud substitute and fish eggs (dubbed “magic seeds”), and sat back to watch them “hatch before their very eyes.” Advertising claimed that once activated, the fish would grow up to three inches long in a variety of colors.
While the idea was a hit at New York Toy Fair, biology caught up with the enterprising duo – the company’s stock of killifish wasn’t laying eggs fast enough to keep up with demand and make the venture economically viable.
For kids needing help to “pop a wheelie” on their Sting Ray bike, the Wheelie-Bar from Wham-O was your ticket to ride (literally). Wham-O released the Wheelie-Bar in 1966. This permanent accessory was made of “chromed steel parts” and attached to specific bike models.
The packaging included instructions on how to “do all the famous tricks done by the experts” – whomever those aficionados might have been.
Not to be confused with Transogram’s Swing Wing, the Whing-Ding was marketed as a much-needed accessory for hula-hoopers. The toy’s simple design consisted of two plastic balls connected by rope to a wooden handle. To “whing ding” children simply spun the toy in a circle fast enough to keep the two balls in horizontal orbit while at the same time taking care to not give themselves a concussion.
In a quirky bit of marketing, Wham-O introduced a new character, WHAMBO, with the launch of the Whing-Ding. This “cool witch doctor” told kids that the toy was twice the fun for hula-hoopers and “more fun than witch-doctoring!”
Marketed as a game of skill, Poke-a-Bone challenged players to “swing it up and poke the bone.” In this case, the bones in question were oddly shaped plastic pieces labeled with a specific part of the body: knee, arm, leg, shoulder, neck, head, foot, ankle, back, and hip.
Players threw the bones in the air and tried to catch them on the miniature plastic femur that was pointed at one end. Once collected, the ten bones and femur were kept together with a leather strip. A metal piece shaped like a fish provided a counterweight and completed the Neanderthal vibe.
TV ads challenged kids to complete a variety of tricks using the toy, including the Poke Chop, Going Fishing (catching the metal fish on the bone), and a Bone Run (spearing all pieces at one time.)
In the early 1970s, Wham-O introduced the toy-buying public to the “volcanic action” of the Magic Window. The creative toy allowed children and kidults to create ever-changing pictures simply by rotating it in their hands.
The company accomplished this feat of retail wizardry by encasing “patented Microdium crystals” between two pieces of heavy-duty polystyrene. The crystals were multi-colored and fabricated with different densities, allowing them to easily slide around the container and create different patterns. An included stand allowed users to put their creations on display.
The toy proved so popular that Wham-O eventually released a glow-in-the-dark version, a perfect complement to those black-light posters popular in youths’ bedrooms at the time.
ALL THINGS WHAM-O!
Wham-O’s catalog is a cornucopia of nostalgia for anyone who’s been a kid over the past 75 years. If you’re interested in a fun walk down this memory lane, be sure to check out Tim Walsh’s Wham-O Super Book, required reading for fans of the company.
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.
Very nicely written article Mr Coopee, a nice read down memory lane. My father, Richard Knerr, would’ve liked it as well. Thank you! I guess if I’m lucky enough, I will be the age of 90 upon the 100 yr anniversary. We wil see…