CBC Digital Archives

1958: Hula Hoop craze hits Canada

From the hula hoop, tabletop hockey, Spirograph and toy guns to Cabbage Patch Kids, Elmo, GI Joe and Transformers, kids in Canada have had no shortage of toys and games to choose from since the 1950s. Mega-seller Barbie came in various incarnations and the trivial pursuit of digital equipment made popular games seem invisible in the new millenium. CBC Digital Archives takes a look back at what's been cool and unique in playland throughout the years.

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It's 1958 and a strange new toy is sweeping the nation. Forget Yo-Yos, Bolo Bats and Davy Crockett hats, the Hula Hoop has arrived in Canada. Called the "granddaddy of American fads", the hooping craze hits North America like no other trend. CBC reporter Harry Allen talks with hoop manufacturer Tom Box about the evolution of the Hula Hoop. Allen also takes his microphone to the playground to speak to the experts.
• Saint John, N.B. holds the record for simultaneous Hula Hooping. According to The Guinness Book of World Records Record Breakers' Club, 2,010 participants hooped together for two minutes in Saint John on Sept. 21, 1990.

• In the liner notes for the album Gordon Lightfoot: Songbook, Lightfoot reveals that the first song he wrote was about the Hula Hoop craze. Though this song was never recorded, an employee at BMI Canada encouraged him to continue writing.

• Developed by Richard P. Knerr and Arthur K. (Spud) Melin of the Wham-O Manufacturing Company in California, the original plastic Hula Hoop sold for $1.98 and cost about 50 cents to produce. At the height of the craze, 25 million hoops were sold in two months, followed by 100 million international orders.

• The hoop fad peaked in the spring of 1958 and was virtually over by November.

• Knerr and Melin were not able to get a patent for their hoop as variations date back to ancient Greece. Early hoops were made of bamboo, grape vines or stiff grasses.

• Ancient Greeks used hoops for weight loss, doctors in 14th century England blamed a hooping craze for increased back dislocations and heart attacks, and Australians used them in gym class in the 1950s.

• The name Hula Hoop was inspired by the Hawaiian dance hoopers appeared to imitate. Competing products included the Spin-a-Hoop, Hoop Zing and Hooper Dooper, though none came close to the popularity of Wham-O's Hula Hoop.

• Popular singer Georgia Gibbs recorded The Hula Hoop Song which became a Top 40 hit in 1958.

• Made of Marlex - a durable, lightweight plastic recently developed by Phillips Petroleum - the Hula Hoop was instrumental in creating a market for this new product. Stockpiles of this "miracle plastic" accumulated in warehouses until the hoop craze provided relief. Hoop production took the plant's entire output for nearly six months.

• Wham-O quickly learned that the future lay in fads. As the hooping craze began to wane, they sought a new toy to apply their marketing and plastics expertise. They focused on the Frisbee, the rights to which they had purchased a few years earlier. Other Wham-O products that spawned or capitalized on fads include the super ball, the hacky sack and a do-it-yourself bomb shelter kit.

• According to Guinness, Cia Grangér of Finland holds the world record for completing three full revolutions while supporting 83 hoops.

• Unofficial records indicate that American Tonya Lynn Mistal hooped for 88 consecutive hours in 1986.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Sept. 30, 1958
Guest(s): Tom Box, Shaw Carmichael, Harold McGrath
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Reporter: Harry Allen
Duration: 4:53

Last updated: September 26, 2014

Page consulted on September 26, 2014

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