Happy Birthday, Hula-Hoop!

2 minutes

Hula Hoop
Hula Hoop
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that on this day in 1963, the Hula-Hoop was patented?

Friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr founded the California company Wham-O in 1948 and pioneered the invention of the modern hula-hoop. Originally focusing on sporting goods, Melin and Knerr were inspired to create the hula-hoop when they saw a wooden hoop that Australian children used during gym classes. Changing the material to plastic, Melin and Knerr engineered this iconic toy and it became an overnight success. Wham-O sold an estimated 25 million hula-hoops, at $1.98 a hoop, in the first two months after its release.

However, not everyone was swept away by the hula-hoop. This toy was denounced in Japan as being too suggestive, while the USSR called it an example of the "emptiness of American culture." But these naysayers could not stop the American public from falling in love with the hoop. Although this craze was short-lived and the public moved on in a few short months, the hula-hoop has had a lasting effect in the U.S. Today, all popular fads are measured against the "hoopla" the hula-hoop caused in the 1950s.

In fact, the hula-hoop has a much longer history. In ancient Egypt, over 3,000 years ago, children would make circles from dried grape vines and swing them around their waists, roll them, or toss them to one another. Even the ancient Greeks were known to use hoops as a form of exercise. The hula-hoop also became a brief phenomenon in 14th century England. However, this fad was quickly stopped when the British felt hula hooping was to blame for heart attacks and back problems. There is also a Native American hoop dance that dates back to the 1400s and a Native American Hoop Dance competition is still held annually in Phoenix, Arizona.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, the hula-hoop made yet another comeback when Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, a Swiss musician and the inventor of eurhythmics (a method of experiencing music through movement), incorporated hoop dancing into a special training system for musicians and dancers. During the same period, artist Jean-Léon Gérôme used an image of a "Hoop Dancer" in his paintings and sculptures. The term "hula-hoop" is also much older than the modern toy. British sailors in the 1800s gave the hoop its name after bringing back accounts of hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands, and observed that the movements looked similar to when one was hooping.

Today, the hula-hoop remains a classic American toy. Even adults have discovered the joy and exercise value of hooping! Many people are praising the athletic and meditative benefits of hooping, nowadays with a larger, sturdier hoop, and an international community of "hoopers" that is steadily growing.

So, Happy Birthday, Hula-Hoop! Thank you for so many years of fun and fitness!


Sarah Wadlinger Sarah Wadlinger

A Pennsylvania native, Sarah Wadlinger has a B.A. in International Studies and served as the Participant Services Coordinator for InterExchange Career Training USA from 2011 to 2013.

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