Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, two University of Southern California college graduates unhappy with their employment, began the company in 1948 as "WHAM-O Mfg. Co." in the Knerr family garage in South Pasadena. Their first product was the Wham-O slingshot, made of ash wood, which Knerr and Melin would promote by showing off their own skills at demonstrations. The powerful slingshot was used by clubs for competitive target shooting, as well as for small game hunting. The name "Wham-O" was based on the sound of the slingshot's shot hitting the target. When they outgrew the garage they rented a building on S. Marengo Ave in Alhambra, California. The company eventually moved its manufacturing plant to neighboring San Gabriel, California.
Frisbee political campaign advertisement designed by San Francisco based advertising executive Bob Gardner of Gardner Communications as part of U.S. President Gerald Ford's 1976 advertising team and given to Ford at the 1976 Republican National Convention. At the time, Gardner's company also held the Frisbee advertising account.
1948, WHAM-O founded - For about a year in the fifties, the company tried to brand their sporting goods under the name WAMO. The sporting goods buyers didn't care for the switch so it was soon dropped.
1957, Hula Hoop first manufactured by Toltoys (Developed by David Tolmer).
1957, WHAM-O acquires the rights to the Flyin-Saucer / Frisbee from Fred Morrison.
1958, Hula Hoop first marketed by WHAM-O.
1958, the Hula Hoop craze occurs.
1958, Flying Saucer / Frisbee sales improved.
1961, Slip 'N' Slide first manufactured by WHAM-O.
1965, Super Ball first manufactured by WHAM-O.
1982, Wham-O was purchased by Kransco Group Companies.
1997, Wham-O became independent again when a group of investors purchased the company from Mattel.
2002, Arthur "Spud" Melin died.
January 2006, Wham-O was sold for ~ US$80 million to Cornerstone Overseas Investment Limited, a Chinese company that owns or controls five factories in China. That same month Wham-O donated the office files, photographs and films of Dan "Stork" Roddick (Dir. Sports Promotion 1975–1994) to Western Historical Manuscript Collection (Midwest Disc Sports Collection accession 5828). WHMC is located on the University of Missouri, Columbia campus and is a joint collection with the State Historical Society of Missouri.
In 1957, Wham-O, still a fledgling company, took the idea of Australian bamboo "exercise hoops" and manufactured them with Marlex. The new Hula Hoop was born (the name "hula hoop" has been used since the 18th century). Knerr and Melin had created the biggest fad to date. Twenty-five million were sold in less than four months, and in two years sales reached more than 100 million units. By the end of 1959, after US$45 million in profits (US$346M adjusted for inflation to 2012), the fad slowly was dying out.
Shortly after, they got lucky again with the Frisbee. In 1955 Fred Morrison began marketing a plastic flying disc which he called the "Pluto Platter". He sold the design to Wham-O in 1957 and the design was modified, the product renamed Frisbee and sales took off in 1959.
The Frisbee and Hula Hoop created fads. Other products tried to take advantage of existing national trends. In the 1960s, Wham-O came out with a US$119 do-it-yourself bomb shelter cover. In 1962, they sold a limbo dance kit to take advantage of that fad, and in 1975 when the movie Jaws was released, they sold plastic shark teeth.
Many products, of course, were not successful. One such product came as a result of Melin's safari to Africa in the early 1960s. While camping, he discovered a species of fish that laid eggs in the mud during Africa's dry season. When the rains came, the eggs hatched and fish emerged overnight. Melin turned this into the Instant Fish product, an aquarium kit that consisted of some of the fish eggs and some mud in which to hatch them. Its debut at a New York toy fair made it wildly popular, but the fish could not produce eggs fast enough, so the idea was dropped.
"Air Blaster" (1965), which could blow out a candle at 20 feet.
"Bubble Thing" (1988), soap bubble toy, which is an extremely large bubble wand, usually dipped in a small plastic wading pool filled with bubble solution that claims to make bubbles "as long as a bus," which is actually true.
Magic Window (1971), was made from two 30 by 30 centimetres (12 in × 12 in) oval plates of heavy clear plastic, with a narrow channel between them containing "Microdium" (glass) crystal sands of varying colors. The concept behind the Magic Window toy came from inventor Roy L. Cloutier, who had a degree in Engineering Physics from Michigan Tech. In 2012, the current owners of the original patent made a slightly modified version of the Magic Window available, created and marketed without Wham-O's involvement.
Wham-O's initial success can be seen as a result of the insight of its founders. Knerr and Melin aimed their products directly at kids, going to playgrounds to reach them. They did extensive research to find new product ideas, including traveling around the world.
For many years, the company's strategy was to have eight to twelve simple and inexpensive products, such as Frisbees, Super Balls, and Hula Hoops. New products would be developed and added to the line for a tryout period, and old ones retired (either for a few years or permanently) as their popularity waned. Since the toys were not expensive or complicated, they were sold by a wide variety of retailers, from large department stores to Five and dime stores.
After the sale of the company, the various new owners experimented with changes to this formula. The toy industry was changing, with more complicated products and fewer sales outlets.
As of 2006, the portfolio of product lines includes several groups of related items which use licensed brand names. For example, Sea-Doo is a brand name by the manufacturer Bombardier of personal water craft; Wham-O makes a "Sea-Doo" product line of small inflatable rafts designed to be towed behind watercraft.
Product lines are also more complex, and are grouped into related categories; the Sea-Doo line has approximately a dozen products, there are several Slip 'N Slide variations, a group of "lawn games" and so on.
On January 31, 2011, Wham-O announced its arrangement with ICM, the company that represents Atari video games, to represent the Wham-O company in various media. The expected result will be movies, television, music, and online content based around the toy products of the Wham-O company.
In popular culture
A fictionalized account of the invention of two Wham-O products, the Hula-Hoop and Frisbee, is depicted in the 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, though the company is mentioned only in the end credits of the film.
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