playing with toys and making it bigger

playing with toys and making it bigger

In the history of toys, there have been few toys that have been able to match the craze and frenzy created by the Hula-Hoop.

In the history of toys, few toys have matched the craze and mania created by the Hula-Hoop. | Photo credit: Andrew David Newdigate / Flickr

When do you grow up? Is it when you become so tall that you can reach the highest shelves, even lift things for other members of the house sometimes? Or, is it when you gain enough weight that you can lift and carry things around when needed? Or, are you considered grown up when you stop playing with toys?

In fact, there is no one way to answer our initial question. But if we are going to go our own way with the suggested final parameters, then American inventors Arthur Mellin and Richard Neer never grew up! They certainly grew up, obviously. But they remained children at heart because they spent their entire lives playing with toys.

childhood friends

Born six months apart (Melin was born on December 30, 1924, Kenner on June 30, 1925), Melin and Kenner were childhood friends who went to the University of Southern California together. Breeding falcons was one of his hobbies at this time, and he loved teaching falcons to dive.

He did this by throwing meatballs at the feathers, which he did by using a home-made version of a slingshot as his projectile launcher. Although he tried to sell his birds to enthusiasts, he did not have much success, but instead gained more popularity for his launcher.

'Wham-O' was born!

Since both of them were not very keen on joining their father's business, they decided to make the most of the interest people showed in their slingshot. Paying $7 upfront at Sears, Roebuck & Co., they bought a power saw and set up shop in Kenner's parents' Los Angeles garage. While Melin cut the shot with the saw, Kenner sanded it and the two of them got into the business of selling it – first in person, and then via postal order across the country. Thus was born the Wham-O Manufacturing Company in 1948.

They named it Wham-O for the sound a slingshot makes when it hits its target. They expanded slowly, first moving out of a garage into a failed grocery store, then eventually growing large enough to set up a factory. They flourished in the toy industry when they began focusing on sporting goods. They remained informal about their business, even when they found tremendous success.

Frisbee Mania

His first big success came through a product called the Frisbee. He came into contact with Walter Frederick Morrison, who was trying to sell his flying discs in a parking lot in 1955. He bought the rights to what Morrison called Pluto Platters and asked Ed Hedrick, his research and development man at Wham-O, to add aerodynamic details such as rings on top.

It was only when it was renamed the Frisbee in 1958 that sales of the product took off. With slow and steady sales, it became one of Wham-O's most popular toys, and it remains relevant today. As Melin hoped, it also formed the basis of a sport called Ultimate, which now even has a world championship.

Patent drawings used for the Hula-Hoop. Melin's name is mentioned as the inventor.

Patent drawings used for the Hula-Hoop. Melin's name is mentioned as the inventor. | Photo credit: US Patent US3079728

Hula-Hoop Effect

His biggest success, even if not financially, was the Hula-Hoop. According to company legend, the idea came to him when an Australian man told him how they used to twirl bamboo hoops around their waists in gym classes as children. Seeing its potential, he began manufacturing a product called the Hula-Hoop using high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a plastic recently developed by the Phillips Petroleum Company.

There was a nationwide panic when Wham-O's hula hoops and countless imitations disappeared from stores at an incredible speed. Wham-O sold 20-40 million hoops in the first year (1958) and hit the 100 million mark by 1960 – something unimaginable for most toys. However, the trend ended just as quickly as it began, with every household having two or three hoops! Business inexperience and piles of plastic in the form of unsold hoops meant that Wham-O was unable to make much profit from its hula hoops.

Bounce back like a superball

They overcame that financial crisis with the Superball, selling 20 million units before abandoning the product. It was made of compressed plastic called Zectron that bounced uncontrollably, a product that a chemical engineer accidentally created. It took them two years of development to overcome its tendency to fly and create the Superball.

Melin and Kenner continued to tinker and invent as long as they remained in business. The water play toy patent filed by Melin on June 23, 1980 was probably one of the last toys Melin and Kenner were associated with. Tired of the business, Melin convinced Kenner to sell the company in 1982, the same year he received a patent for the water play toy.

Even though they were tired of the business, they were not tired of toys. Melin in particular maintained his interest in inventing and even patented the design of a two-handed tennis racket with an adjustable handle. After a lifetime of creating crazy things that they were able to sell around the world, Melin and Kenner died in the first decade of the 21st century – Melin died in 2002 and Kenner died in 2008.

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