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Wham-O History

The History of Wham-O

Hula Hoop on History Channel

Frisbee on History Channel

From the off-the-wall novelty items to classic "basic" toys  and sporting goods, WHAM-O® means innovative products that spark  the imagination, give people pleasure and hold their interest. Just think about how any boy in the 1950s could have grown up without a WHAM-O Slingshot.  That was the product that gave the company, founded in 1948, its distinctive name. When the missile hit its target, it made the sound "WHAM-O"!

The zany founders of WHAM-O®, Arthur "Spud" Melin and Richard  Knerr, became known as the gurus of blockbuster fads. A look at the history of WHAM-O brand products provides an interesting and entertaining peek at how some world-renowned products came to be.

A building inspector named Fred Morrison puttered with and refined a plastic flying disc that he sold to WHAM-O® in 1955. Introduced to the consumer market in 1957 as the Pluto Platter™ (the name inspired by the country's obsession with Unidentified Flying Objects), it was modified in 1958, renamed the FRISBEE® disc,  and has become an American icon.

In 1961, Wham-O introduced the original Slip ’N Slide®, which quickly became a permanent warm weather favorite among kids around the world.

Melin and Knerr were always open to original and often strange ideas. They experimented with toys themselves and would try out products directly with potential buyers. They heard of Australian children using a bamboo ring for exercise and immediately turned out...you guessed it...HULA HOOP® toy hoop. Knerr and Melin promoted it for months in 1958 on Southern California playgrounds where they would do demonstrations and give away hoops to get the children to learn and play. Their perseverance turned HULA HOOP toy hoops into the greatest fad the country has ever seen. Twenty-five million were sold in four months!

In the early 1960s, Norman Stingley,  a chemical engineer, accidentally created a plastic product that bounced  uncontrollably. He offered the product to Melin and Knerr and the SUPERBALL® bouncy ball was created, followed by the Super Gold Ball, Super Baseball and Super Dice.  In one celebrated incident, a giant SUPERBALL, produced as a promotional item, was accidentally dropped out of a 23rd floor hotel window in Australia.  It shot back up 15 floors, then down again into a parked convertible car. The car was totaled but the ball survived the "test" in perfect condition.

During the 1960s, WHAM-O® sold some 20 million SUPERBALL® Bouncy Balls – Although competitors tried to make balls with properties similar to those of the SUPERBALL® bouncy ball. Countless customers have never been satisfied with mere copies.  For them, the WHAM-O® SUPERBALL Bouncy Ball is still #1.

One of the most exotic WHAM-O product ideas came as a result of Melin's safari to Africa in the early 1960s.  He discovered a species of fish that laid eggs in mud during Africa's dry season. When the rains came, the eggs hatched and fish emerged. Ah-ha, thought Melin. Sell chunks of mud, add water, and voila, instant aquarium.  Millions of dollars of orders for INSTANT FISH were taken. Unfortunately, the fish brought back to America wouldn't mate, so no fish eggs, no mud and the end of a great idea.

Dozens of great ideas came and went. WHAM-O® was nothing if not daring and contemporary. During the great bomb shelter craze of the 1960s, the company marketed the plans and parts for a $119 do-it-yourself shelter. In 1962, when the limbo dance craze was popular, WHAM-O sold a Limbo party kit with instructions on how to do the dance.  When the first JAWS movie came out in 1975, WHAM-O was there with "real" plastic Great White Shark teeth.

Many of WHAM-O's products have been aimed, literally, at kids. The AIR BLASTER toy introduced in 1965 could blow out candle at 20 feet with  a "ball" of  air. While 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. The array of flying birds, planes, bubble makers, darts and guns created by WHAM-O in the 50s and 60s is amazing.

The HACKY SACK® footbag was added to WHAM-O’s product line-up and became a "foot fad," a sort of FRISBEE® DISC-for-the-feet success story.  Other additions in the 1970s and 1980s included the BUBBLE THING, which made "unbelievable, humongous bubbles!" And the ingenious ROLLER RACER SIT SKATE.

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