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Friday, June 20, 2008

It Is Unbelieveable Baby Boomers! Hula Hoop Turns 50

Hula Hoop 50? You got to be kidding! It just seems like yesterday when my sister and I owned hula hoops. My sister's was blue and mine was red. I sure could make that hula hoop swing back then. I tried it with my granddaughter's hoop and of course I looked ridiculous. The Hula Hoop idea (although not called the Hula Hoop back then) really didn't start in 1958 but actually in ancient history.

Throughout history, the hula hoop has been used in various cultures for a number of purposes. In ancient Greece, citizens used the hula hoop as a form of exercise. In Egypt around 3,000 years ago, hoops made out of grape vines were propelled around the ground with sticks. Native Americans used hoops as a target for teaching accuracy for hunting. The word "hula" was added in the early 18th century as sailors who visited Hawaii noticed the similarity between hula dancing and tripping hoops.

In 1957 the hula (also frequently spelled "hoola") hoop was reinvented by Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, founders of the Wham-O toy company. (The two had founded the company in a Los Angeles garage in 1948 to market the "Wham-O" slingshot, which was originally invented to shoot pieces of meat into the air, as a training device for falcons). The idea came from an Australian who had visited California who told Knerr and Melin about children twirling bamboo hoops around the waist in gym class. The new Hula Hoops were made possible by Marlex, a recently invented durable plastic.

Knerr and Medlin were unable to patent their vastly profitable "re-invention", as it had been in use for thousands of years; making the device out of a new material did not meet patent requirements of originality. They were largely able, however, to protect their invention by trademarking "Hula hoop".

After the hoop was released in 1958,Wham-O sold 25 million in the first four months and over 100 million in its first year at $1.98 each. (you do the math Quite a bit of money back in the 50s). As the fad ran its course, Wham-O again struck lucky with the release of their Frisbee.

The Hula Hoop was popular world-wide. It was so popular in the West that the Soviet Union banned it there.

To relaunch the Hula Hoop in the late 1960s, Wham-O staged a national competition in the US in conjunction with the National Parks & Recreation Network. The National Hula Hoop Contest (subsequently re-named the World Hula Hoop Championships) grew in scope from 500 U. S. cities in 1968 to over 2,000 cities in 1980, with two million participants. Competitors were judged on their performance of compulsory maneuvers (Knee Knocker, Stork, Hula Hop, Wrap the Mummy, Alley Oop) as well as freestyle routines set to music, establishing the roots of the contemporary freestyle Hula Hoop movement.

As I stated before the Hula Hoop is still available for sale. At any rate Happy 50th Birthday to the Hula Hoop!

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