Hoop Hoop Hurray!

By Jack Olson

It’s time for a bit of nostalgia. Do you remember the hula hoop? I was traveling in Europe when I saw my first hula hoop. Some boys were playing along the Appian Way south of Rome. I believe there is WWII damage in the background of the photo. It was January, 1959. 

Hula hooping along the Appian Way in 1959.
Hula hooping along the Appian Way in 1959. © Jack Olson

The hula hoop was inspired when Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr, owners of Wham-O, saw Australian children twirling wooden hoops around their waist during gym class. Wham-O patented the toy in 1958 and named the colorful plastic tubes after a hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance. Soon Wham-O was manufacturing 20,000 hula hoops every day. An estimated 25 million hula hoops were sold during the first four months of production. 

The original hula hoop cost $1.98. In its first year of production, over 100 million hoops were sold. By the mid ‘60s, hula hoop sales were lagging, so Wham-O added several ball bearings inside the plastic tubes to make noise. The new feature started a second craze and launched the National Hula Hoop Contest that ran from 1968-1981. 

Today, the hula hoop has come full circle. It is used in exercise studios and gyms across the nation. Hula hoops have even made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Guinness World Records. In 2004, two people in Japan spun a 13-feet, 4-inch hoop around their waist at least three times. Later that year, a performer at the Big Apple Circus in Boston spun 100 hoops around her body.

What a waist.