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c. 1958

Whoop! Whoop! Hula Hoop! Photos from its heyday in the 50s

When everyone from football players to nuns got in on the fun

Humans have twirled hoops around their bodies throughout history—for fun, as an element of dance, and as a dramatic or storytelling device.  But an offhand remark from an Australian led to the ‘invention’ of the Hula-Hoop in 1958—and a global phenomenon.

Richard Knerr and Athur Melin had founded the Wham-O toy company ten years previously, operating out of Knerr’s family’s garage. Their first—and until 1957, only—product was a sling-shot. But that year, a visiting Australian mentioned that children twirled bamboo hoops around their waists in Australian physical education classes at school.

Wasting no time, Knerr and Melin put their resources into releasing a plastic hoop to the market as soon as possible. Naming it the Hula-Hoop – the first of many alliterating products for Wham-O, such as the Slip ‘n’ Slide and the Monster Magnet—the company employed U.S. national marketing and giveaways to kick start sales.

The result? The hula-hoop was a smash-hit—and by July 1958, had crossed over to become a full-blown-fad. 

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In less than four months, Wham-O sold twenty-five million hoops. At the peak, the manufacturers were spinning out 50,000 hoops a day. By the end of 1959, 100 million hoops had shipped, and in two years, sales reached more than 100 million units.

Despite the extraordinary success, the hoop inevitably fell to the floor and by the end of 1959, the fad had passed—but not before netting Wham-O $45 million in profit. 

These pictures show the hoop being well and truly hula’d during the heady days of 1958.

A multi-exposure shot of a boy playing with a hula-hoop.
Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A woman demonstrating a hula-hoop in a store.
Bill Bridges/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Hula-hooping in California.
Bill Bridges/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
A multi-exposure of a woman playing with a hula-hoop.
J. R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Benedictine Sisters at the Christ King Convent in Oklahoma City try their hand at the hula-hoop.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
A hula-hoop contest held in a movie theater lobby.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
A woman at Cypress Gardens, Fla.
Getty Images
Children raise their hula-hoops in a get together in San Francisco.
Getty Images
George Washington University’s 97-pound cheerleader Anne Sneeringer unsuccessfully attempts to coach 270-pound tackle Ed Rurbach in the art of spinning a hula hoop.
Getty Images
Mimi Jordan, 10, drinks milk and holds a sandwich while hula-hooping and breaking a world record.
Getty Images
A European woman tries out a hula hoop.
Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images
Mr. MWQ Walker with his hula hoop, which he bought at Selfridges store in Oxford Street, London.
Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
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