In the spring of 1958, a toy company in California called Wham-O introduced its newest novelty: the Hula Hoop. Based on an age-old toy with origins stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome, Wham-O’s plastic version of the hoop sold for $1.98 and became an overnight sensation. In the first four months, the company sold an astonishing 25 million hoops in the United States; within two years, the figure reached 100 million.
At the height of Hula Hoop’s popularity in the summer of 1958, hooping was an omnipresent national fad. Imitators like the Hooper Dooper and Whoop-de-Doo also quickly appeared around the nation’s waists.
But the fad died almost as quickly as it had begun; indeed, Wham-O actually lost money in 1958 because sales plummeted after kids went back to school in September, causing unwanted hoops to pile up in the company’s warehouses.
By the early 1960s, sales had stabilized. Stores continue to sell the hoops, which have enjoyed periodic revivals – albeit never at the level of the initial craze.
With its brief, overwhelming popularity, the Hula Hoop has been described as the prototype for later consumer fads. “No sensation has ever swept the country like the Hula Hoop,” wrote Richard Johnson in the book American Fads; the hoop “remains the one standard against which all national crazes are measured.”
Hooping was also a widespread fad in fourteenth-century England.