Top 25 "It" products of all time: #13 -- Hula hoops
Hula hoops are, astonishingly, an ancient device without any connection to Hawaii. In the long ago days before plastic, hoops made of rattan, reeds, and grapevines were used by the Grecians for exercise, and by the Egyptians as a toy (propelled across the ground with a straight stick). The "hula" name was acquired in the early 1700s, when European sailors first watched the hula dance and thought it was reminiscent of the motion used to twirl hoops.
But hula hoops as they appear today, in bright colors of plastic tubing, first hit the streets of America, Europe and Australia in 1957, when the Coles department store found its bamboo hoop supplier couldn't keep up. They asked a longtime Australian supplier, Toltoys, to make them plastic hoops, and a craze was born.
Soon Wham-O was on board, and in 1958, a whopping 100 million were sold before the craze suddenly died in October of that year. While it lasted, American and European streets and parks were a sight to behold, with dozens of slim young people gyrating and grinding, their waists encircled by bright plastic tubes.
Wham-O couldn't patent the ancient device, but the company did manage to trademark "Hula Hoop," and parlayed that into very modest success for the next few decades. Around the turn of the millennium, when "hooping" or "hoopdancing" became popular as an alternative exercise and art form, Wham-O was left out of the party as new, better balanced, heavier hoops designed for athletic use were developed.