So there's this young enthusiastic guy working down there in the mailroom. He carries around what appears to be a sketch of a circle written on a piece of paper. "You know," he explains earnestly to all who will listen, "for kids." They don't get it.
In that great American mythological way, though (well, not quite), the earnest one gets to the top of his company, a mysterious conglomerate with fingers in seemingly everybody's pie. "You know," he tells the board of directors, holding the circle aloft, "for kids." They take it.
And so, thousands of these things are produced in factories chugging and chugging the way they did in that sentimentalized day when American factories produced goods. Circles, circles of all colorful colors. The guys in marketing think it over, slogging through names like the "hipster," "the Daddy-O" and the classic "The Wacky Circumference" until one stands and announces, "Fellas, I got it." They will be called Hula Hoops.
The Hula Hoops are put in toy stores by the scores, Hula Hoops adorning signs in the window, displays in the shop. No one buys, no one buys, no one buys. Finally, one frustrated shop owner literally throws them out his front door. It rolls, it rolls, until one boy picks it up. Revelation: he begins revolving his hips within it in that familiar way we all know today. A gaggle of children see this and squeal with delight. The Hula Hoopla was born and our squeaky clean American friend just make his company zillions. Paul Newman is not happy.
This is the plotline of The Hudsucker Proxy, a grossly underrated film directed by the Coen brothers. This wonky sentimental tale, aside fun being going fun, does bring up some interesting questions, even for those who were there. Who did invent Hula Hoops, then, if not Tim Robbins? And how did he come up with the idea? How did the craze take over the land to the tune of twenty million sold at almost two dollars a pop in six months? And how did one toy leave such an indelible mark on the pop culture landscape?
In actuality, the Hula Hoop cannot claim one inventor per se, as certain cultures have known the toy for millennia, making Hula Hoops from bamboo, wood, vines and such. The type that comes to mind when we think of Hula Hoops today is one crafted from a polymer blend (one trademarked variety is composed of crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene). The Hula Hoopla in America took place in 1958, thereby forever placing itself in the American mind alongside poodle skirts, diners and tailfinned cars.
This modern version was invented by Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, who went on to form a company based at first out of their living quarters, propped up by the creation and production of a slingshot. Wham-O became the largest producer of Hula Hoops in the 1950s and would go on to reach even higher heights in the 60s with their next pumped out craze: the Frisbee. Really. The flying disc was not actually invented by Tim Robbins. Sorry to bust bubbles there. Besides, you're probably better at twirling the hoop.