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Wham-O

From Academic Kids

Wham-O is a toy company currently located in California, USA. They are known for inventing many of the most popular modern toys, including the hula hoop, the frisbee, the hacky sack, and the predecessor of modern nerf dart guns.

History

Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, two college graduates unhappy with their employment, began the company in a Los Angeles, California, garage in 1948.

Their first market idea was a slingshot. The idea came up as they hurled meat into the air for the training of pet falcons and hawks. It was called Wham-O to resemble the sound of a target hit. It stuck as the name of the company.

In 1957, Wham-O, still a fledgling company, took the idea of Australian bamboo hoops and manufactured them with Marlex. The new Hula Hoop was born (the name "hula hoop" has been used since the 18th century). Knerr and Melin created the biggest fad to that date. 25 million were sold in less than four months, and in two years sales reached more than 100 million units. By the end of 1959, after $45 million in profits, the fad slowly was dying out.

Shortly after, they got lucky again and came up with their Frisbee. Fred Morrison refined in 1955 a plastic flying disc that he sold to Wham-O in 1957. It was introduced to the consumer market in 1957 as the "Pluto Platter". In 1958 it got modified and renamed to Frisbee and took off in 1959.

In the early 1960s, they created the Superball. It was made of a relatively hard elastomer alloy dubbed Zectron®, exhibiting a remarkable 0.9 coefficient of restitution when bounced on hard surfaces. They sold some 20 million of them.

Wham-O's initial success can be seen as the insight of its founders. Knerr and Melin aimed their products directly at kids, going out to playgrounds to reach them.

Dozens of ideas came and went over the years.

One of the exotic Wham-O product ideas came as a result of Melin's safari to Africa in the early 1960s. While camping, he discovered a species of fish that laid eggs in the mud during Africa's dry season. When the rains came, the eggs hatched and fish emerged overnight. Melin thought he may sell chunks of mud with the eggs for an instant aquarium as Instant Fish. Its debut at a New York toy fair made it wildly popular, but the fish couldn't produce eggs fast enough, so the idea was dropped.

The "Air Blaster" in 1965 could blow out a candle at 20 feet. The "Huf'n Puf" blowgun shot soft rubber darts, a gentler version of the real thing, which Melin and Knerr discovered during a toy-scouting journey to Africa.

They were also skilled at creating goods that followed national trends. In the 1960s, Wham-O came out with a $119 do-it-yourself bomb shelter. In 1962, they sold a limbo dance kit due to a craze, and in 1975 and when the movie Jaws was released, they created large, white shark teeth.

Other products in the 1970s and 1980s were "Bubble Thing" and "Roller Racer Sit Skate".

In 1982, Wham-O was purchased by Kransco Group Companies.

In 1983, the Hacky Sack footbag was added to Wham-O's line of products. It was conceived by John Stalberger and Mike Marshall in 1972.

In 1994, Mattel bought it from Kransco. In 1997, Wham-O became independent again when a group of investors purchased the company from Mattel. Wham-O is currently located in Emeryville, California.

In 2003 Wham-O sued to have the film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star removed from theaters until the "Slip 'N Slide" scene was removed. They claimed it violated the product's safety instructions.

References

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