How Those Hula-Hoops Got Rolling (Dec, 1958)

“A hoop?” winced the toy man. “Who’d buy a hoop?”

“Just kids,” Melin and Knerr chorused.

Sound’s like it’s right out of the Hudsucker Proxy (video link)

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How Those Hula-Hoops Got Rolling

By James Joseph

CREW-CUT and boyish Spud Melin, 33, went to grammar school one day last April and graduated into the ranks of America’s youngest millionaires.

Rolling a bright plastic hoop into his daughter’s Sierra Madre, Calif., schoolyard, Spud invited a couple of fourth graders to give it a whirl.

“Like this,” Spud demonstrated, as he stepped into the hoop. He held it waist high, spun it with his hands and kept it going with hula-like gyrations of hip and body.

“Gee,” shrilled an excited moppet, “let me try!”

Spud handed him the hoop—the 36-inch diameter plaything which, less than an hour before, had been fashioned from ten feet of polyethylene tubing by Melin and his partner, 33-year-old Rich Knerr.

Ten days later—with $100 invested in their vision—Spud and Rich asked a local toy dealer to give their idea a spin.

“A hoop?” winced the toy man. “Who’d buy a hoop?”

“Just kids,” Melin and Knerr chorused. “The nation’s 30,000,000 youngsters, aged five to 14!”

Overnight the Hula-Hoop spun across the nation, picking up speed—and faddists. It rolled on to become the most popular toy ever to captivate the young of heart and lithe of body. Sales estimates run to 1,000,000—the number sold during the first four weeks. At $1.98 apiece, that’s nearly $2,000,000 gross.

Guessperts [Continued on page 157] believe the two swivel-hipped young entrepreneurs should roll up $5,000,000 in profits before the Hula-Hoop ends its dizzy whirl.

Melin and Knerr have been turning out hundreds of thousands of hoops on dozens of hastily set up production lines from Newark, N. Y., to San Gabriel, Calif. A single line—working around the clock and employing upwards of 50 summer-vacationing high-schoolers—puts together 7,000 hoops a day.

The assembly requires almost no machinery. An outside firm makes up the ll/13th-in. diameter hollow polyethylene tubes in ten-foot lengths. They’re extruded from Grex high density plastic.

Two schoolboys manually bend them into shape (bending takes but five seconds) . Another inserts a four-inch hardwood dowel, firming the juncture. A couple of staples and the hoops are ready to roll.

Spud and Rich were just 23 and out of high school when they made their first business success with their Wham-O slingshot—a 40-lb. pull job with a 50-ft. range for killing small animals.

  1. mike brisendine says: March 29, 20085:56 am

    What a great toy! I remember when they became VERY popular, department stores that sold them would have demos on the sidewalks outside the store. Everyone I knew had at least one. Now, that Wham-o slingshot sounds pretty dangerous!

  2. Sporkinum says: March 30, 200812:01 am

    [Norville Barnes introduces the “extruded plastic dingus” to the board members]
    Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done?
    Board Member 2: Does it have rules?
    Board Member 3: Can more than one play?
    Board Member 4: What makes you think it’s a game?
    Board Member 3: Is it a game?
    Board Member 5: Will it break?
    Board Member 6: It better break eventually!
    Board Member 2: Is there an object?
    Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done?
    Board Member 5: Does it come with batteries?
    Board Member 4: We could charge extra for them.
    Board Member 7: Is it safe for toddlers?
    Board Member 3: How can you tell when you’re finished?
    Board Member 2: How do you make it stop?
    Board Member 6: Is that a boy’s model?
    Board Member 3: Can a parent assemble it?
    Board Member 5: Is there a larger model for the obese?
    Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done?
    Board Member 8: What the hell is it?

    Norville: You know, for kids.

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