Saturday, January 19, 2008
The guy who invented hula hoops and other icons of my childhood--superballs and silly string--passed away Monday. Richard Knerr was the man behind Wham-O, a company named for the sound made by a slingshot, the company's first product. A brilliant marketer, he seeded demand for hula hoops in 1958 by giving them out at schoolyards in Pasadena and telling kids they could keep them if they mastered their use. He also required Wham-O execs to take hoops on business flights so people on planes (influencers, in those days) would talk them up.
His most enduring legacy is the Frisbee which was actually invented by someone else, a guy hoping to cash in on a post-WWII rash of UFO sightings in 1948. Knerr encountered the guy 9 years later in a parking lot still trying to sell his "Pluto Platters" and promptly bought up the rights and added a few aerodynamic rings to the design. He began distribution by giving them free to Yalies throwing pie plates across the quad, plates made by the Frisbie Pie Company.
A salute to Mr. Knerr. And thanks for the memories.