My artistic tribute to the things of my childhood, "Welcome to Doodyville" Click to learn some fun trivia about Howdy! You can find this Tribute and more on my Dedications Page at PopArtDiva.com
In the news for those of us who loved Mickey Mouse, Captain Kangaroo, had a Barbie or a Radio Flyer, carried our P,B & J to school in a Howdy Doody lunch box and loved the Hula Hoop.
If you're in the baby boomer age group you will, no doubt, remember Hula Hoops, Frisbees, SuperBalls and the company that gave them to us, Wham-O. Sadly, we have lost one of the talented minds behind those crazes. Richard Knerr passed away on Monday, January 16th in his home in Arcadia, California, at age 82.
These toys spanned the decades of the fifties, sixties and seventies, bringing joy, exercise and just plain hours of fun to the children of those eras. Along with Arthur Melin, his partner in the business of frivolity, Knerr brought us many other favorite toys including the Water Wiggly (remember that crazy sprinkler head?), the Slip 'N Slide (it made your back yard into a water park!), Silly String (still loved by children of all ages!) and a host of other goofy, fun toys.
In 1958 Wham-O introduced the Hula Hoop, a craze that swept the nation. I had one and I'm sure you did too - or at least you borrowed one from a friend. I spent hours swinging my hips and wiggling my tooshie attempting to keep this plastic ring circling for as long as possible. I even had the temerity to attempt to do this with multiple Hula Hoops! It was the perfect toy for the era. It's proper use would give you the same swing and sway of Elvis the Pelvis, the motion it created was in perfect harmony with the rock and roll bebop music that blarred out from American Bandstand and assaulted the neighborhood from our transistor radios!
This simple circle of hollow plastic swept the nation, sellling over 100 million hoops by 1960. The Hula Hoop is still the standard by which the success of any craze is measured, but did you know that Wham-O's final profits on the hoop ended up at only $10,000 due to the lack of business savvy of the new company?
The Frisbee, however, was another story. Originally dubbed the "Pluto Platter" by it's inventor, Frederick Morrison, this pie shaped disk, that would forever remind us of the flying saucers from fifties sci-fi seriels, was purchased by Wham-O in 1955, redesigned for better aerodynamics, and sailed into American Pop Culture on the winds of the imagination of kids, college students, and contest promoters.
The generation that baby boomers grew up in was a much simpler time and the toys we enjoyed complemented our unsophisticated tastes. We were truly kids in those days - naive, trusting, ingenuous and joyfully exploring the world. Our tastes and our toys reflected our times. We knew how to have some fun, by golly!
There was an attempt to bring back the Hula Hoop, scented with peppermint (why peppermint?) in 1982. It failed. Maybe because those unpretentious times were gone and along with them went the understanding and love of uncomplicated toys. The children of today cannot be seduced by simple rings of plastic or humble flying discs. Their playtime thrives in a cyber playground of flashing images and electronic beeps and a virtual world of Game Boy.
Maybe we will see the return of the Hula Hoop on a Wii platform! Then you and I can go back and revisit the days of our youth in virtual reality. Who says you can't go back again?
Read the New York Times article on Richard Knerr and Wham-O
Dear Mr. Knerr, thanks for all the great playtime! I am picturing the heavens swaying in the clouds with 100 milllion hula hoops in motion.