Richard Knerr, the co-founder of Wham-O has died at the age of 82.
Wham-O was a toy inventor’s dream; a company where garage tinkers could show up with wacky ideas and watch them turn into national fads in a matter of months. Wham-O was the birthplace of some of the most memorable and innovative toys in history: the Super Ball, Silly String, the Frisbee, the Slip ‘N Slide, and the Hula Hoop. Wham-O was a perfect blend of California entrepreneurship, space-age optimism and postwar manufacturing methods. It was, in short, the best toy company ever.
Founded as a mail-order slingshot business in 1948 by childhood buddies Rich Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, Wham-O didn’t really take off until 1957, after the partners spotted a man on the beach throwing a plastic flying saucer. They bought the idea for $1 million, changed its name from the Pluto Platter to the Frisbee and had an instant hit on their hands. A year later, inspired by a friend’s account of seeing Australian children twirling wooden hoops around their waists, Knerr and Melin made a plastic version, dubbed it the Hula Hoop, and sold 100 million in 16 months. Fueled by the gusher of cash rushing in from the sales of these two items, Wham-O became a 1,000-employee company, occupying 8 buildings in a 171,000-square-foot complex in San Gabriel, California. Wham-O developed between 40 and 50 new toys a year. Some were hits, like the Superball; others were flops, like the $119 build-your-own bomb shelter.
When Knerr and Melin sold the business to Kransco in 1982, the company crashed. It was bought by Mattel, which killed off all the products except the Hacky Sack, the Hula Hoop, and the Frisbee.
Here's the Los Angeles Times obit: Link
UPDATE: YouTube videos of Wham-O toy commercials: