SAN FRANCISCO – In an age of action-packed video games, it's hard to believe that the Hula Hoop once was the hippest toy around.
The hoopla began 50 years ago Thursday when Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin sought a trademark for a plastic cylinder based on a similar toy that had enjoyed modest success in Australia.
Wham-O, the company founded by Knerr and Melin, sold more than 100 million Hula Hoops — at a $1.98 apiece — after just a year on the U.S. market.
The Hula Hoop became so ubiquitous that the former Soviet Union banned the toy as a symbol of the "emptiness of American culture."
Almost as quickly as they became a household staple, millions of Hula Hoops began collecting cobwebs in garages across the country. While the toy's downward spiral nearly ruined Wham-O, the company was saved by sales of the Frisbee — that took off just as Hula Hoop sales plummeted.