Although this popular toy made its infamous debut in the 1950’s it had surprisingly already been around for hundreds of years. People have been playing with different versions of the Hula-Hoop since the days of ancient Egypt, over 3,000 years ago, when children would fashion circles from dried grape vines and swing them around their waists, roll them on the ground, or toss them to each other. Ancient Greeks even used hoops as a form of exercise to lose weight. In the 1400’s, hooping became popular in England until the British began to blame the practice on heart attacks and back disorders so playing with the toy was then discouraged. Hula-Hoops have been made from every sort of material from wood to metal and they are still enjoyed by people of all ages to this day.
In 1958, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, the founders of our company, released the first plastic hoop and trademarked it under the name “Hula-Hoop.” The toy itself could not be patented because it was such an ancient concept. The name was inspired by the way that playing with the toy resembled the Hawaiian Hula dance. Luckily, Knerr and Melin didn’t go with other name ideas such as Swing-A-Hoop or Twirl-A-Hoop, because the name Hula Hoop was a big hit! Our founders got the idea to make the toy from Australian children who twirled wooden hoops around their waists in gym class. The first Hula-Hoops were made from a patented plastic called Marlex and sold for $1.98. Amazingly, twenty million hoops were sold in the very first 6 months of production which ignited the Hula-Hoop craze of the 1950’s. And in the first two years, we sold over a staggering 100 million of them!
In the months to follow there would be Hula-Hoop contests, exhibitions, and new tricks to learn. The Hula-Hoop was seen everywhere from the circus to late night TV in the United States. The toy became widespread across the globe but was not as well received in certain countries. Japan banned the Hula-Hoop because they thought the toy would incite improprieties, much like Elvis’ hips did. In Russia, the hoops were denounced as an example of the “the emptiness of American culture.” Maybe these countries were just not as adept at hooping and wanted to avoid embarrassment!
Today, you can still find Hula-Hoops in any toy store. The hoops of today are often filled with glitter, colored water, or even noisemakers that drive mom crazy! To give credit to the ancient Greeks, Hula-Hooping remains a great cardiovascular exercise for people of all ages and is often used in gym classes. Hooping is a fun activity for the entire family to do together and if you are a real Hula-Hoop fanatic you can even find others like yourself on the Internet at a web site such as Hooping.org that claims to serve the “underground Hula Hooping community.” You can find Hula-Hooping classes in your area. In the great tradition of timeless classics, the Hula-Hoop is here to stay so go get Hooping!
Hula Hoop was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.
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