Few toys could have you grinning like an idiot and laughing hysterically every time you played with it. But the Hula Hoop (or Hoola Hoop) was most definitely one of them. It had generations wiggling their hips, and many other bits, to its ryhthm, and still does today...
Even before its release to the masses in 1958, legend has it that the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used hoops for to help them keep fit. And the Hula Hoop as we know it was born after tales of children spinning rings of bamboo around their middles returned from Australia. The two men inspired enough to make their own rings and market them to the masses were Richard Knerr and Arthur 'Spud' Melin, both the founders of Wham-O-Toy company. Just like they had done with the oh-so-simple slingshot and, years later, would do with the frisbee, Knerr and Melin were about to create a craze. And crazy it was!
But before that they had to trademark the hoop with a catchy name (since is existed already they couldn't really patent the product design), and so the Hula Hoop came to fruition. Named after the motion needed to stop the hoop from shamefully dropping to the floor, which they remarked, reminded them of the Hawaiian Hula.
The catchy name, coupled with the minimal production costs (it was just a 28 inch diameter of plastic hollow tubing, after all) made it a sure-fire hit. Knerr and Melin, in a stroke of genius, gave away a number of Hula Hoops for free to kids in school playgrounds, knowing full well that this will always be the place were crazes come to fruition. Remember the Lo-lo ball or the Skip-it? And once the kids were shown how to Hula Hoop - keep your hips gyrating at a rate to keep the hoop above hip level - you couldn't see for flashes of fluorescent plastic. Consequently, a staggering 25 million Hula Hoops were sold in the first four months and over 100 million in the first year.
People began adding more Hula Hoops to their bodies in a bid to outdo each other and take the craze to a new level, all the time competing to see who could keep theirs up for the longest. By the 80s, 2000 American cities were holding national Hula Hoop competitions, with 2 million hopefuls competing.
Today, the Hula Hoop has the lure of computer games and other technological advances to compete against, so it's hardly surprising that its popularity has waned. However, this toy of yesteryear has now become a popuar form of exercise among adults, and many now flock to dance glasses at hip (excuse the pun) and trendy gyms to keep their tums trim through hours of extreme Hula Hooping. Who'd have thought?