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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Toy maker of Hula Hoop fame dies

June 30, 2002

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— Arthur "Spud" Melin, co-founder of the toy company that introduced the world to the Frisbee, Hula Hoop and other faddish gems of American pop culture, has died. He was 77 and had Alzheimer's disease.

Melin, who started toy giant Wham-O in 1948 with his childhood friend Richard Knerr, died Friday.

"No sensation has ever swept the country like the Hula Hoop," author Richard Johnson wrote in his book "American Fads." "(It) remains the standard against which all national crazes are measured."

Melin and Knerr started with slingshots and named their mail-order company after the sound a slingshot made when its projectile struck a target. They branched into other sporting goods, including pellet guns, crossbows and daggers.

They added toys in 1955, when building inspector Fred Morrison sold them a plastic flying disc he had developed after watching Yale University students toss pie tins. Wham-O began selling the disc they called the "Pluto Platter" two years later before modifying it and renaming it the "Frisbee."

In 1958, as Frisbee sales took off, an Australian toy manufacturer visited Wham-O's factory in the Los Angeles suburb of San Gabriel. He gave company officials an impromptu lesson in how to use a rattan hoop imported from Australia.

Wham-O began selling the Hula Hoop a short time later and eventually would sell 25 million of them.

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