Richard Knerr, who gave the company he and a friend started in a garage the altogether appropriate name Wham-O, then marketed products that for two decades virtually defined frivolity in postwar America, from the Hula Hoop to the Frisbee to the SuperBall, died on Monday at his home in Arcadia, Calif. He was 82.
Mr. Knerr (pronounced nur) and Arthur Melin had a talent for turning seemingly quirky ideas into national passions. In 1958, their Hula Hoop invigorated members of a rock ’n’ roll generation eager to shake their hips, if only to keep the precarious plastic ring from dropping to their feet.
In the first year, Wham-O sold as many as 40 million hoops; by 1960, 100 million, a mark no other toy had ever reached. After too many households had two or three of the hoops, the fad evaporated, leaving Wham-O marooned on a mountain of tubular plastic. Total profit: only $10,000, a result of business inexperience and millions of unsold hoops.
The Hula Hoop financial debacle was unusual, however. The company had done, and would do, considerably better on products like the Frisbee, for which it bought the rights, streamlined and named. Brought to market in 1957, the Frisbee became a lasting diversion, and even the basis of competitive sports, some of which Wham-O invented.
Other Wham-O brainstorms included the exceedingly bouncy SuperBall, the Water Wiggly sprinkler, the Slip ’N Slide water slide, the Limbo Game and Silly String, a seemingly endless stream of liquid that hardened after being expelled from an aerosol can, all too often in a child’s hair.
An attempt in 1982 to reintroduce Hula Hoops this time with a peppermint scent wafting from the ring went nowhere.(read more>>)
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