The History of the Hula Hoop

Let’s learn about the history of the hula hoop. The exact origin of the hula hoop is unknown, but it has been with us for ages.

My Hula (hoop) History

The History of the hula hoop
The history of the hula hoop

When I think back on my history with hula hooping, I am transported back to the colorful early 90’s. It almost feels like the little hot pink hula hoop with the white stripe existed before I did because I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t around. When I was 5, we went to Toys ‘R’ Us and picked up a big see-through Barbie hula hoop that had glitter in it. This hoop seemed enormous compared the the original pink one.

When I gave it a spin, it fell to the ground. I guess not a lot has changed. We all got a good laugh as we passed the hoop around to family members and friends, but back then it became a once-in-a blue moon kind of activity for me. You’ll hear more about my hula hoop story as we get to know each other, but the actual history of the hula hoop is even more interesting than mine.

The History of the Hula Hoop

Now that we know what a hula hoop is and we’ve learned about the different kinds of hula hoops, it is time to learn about the history of the hula hoop. I always feel more passionate about a subject matter when I am familiar with its origin story.

Wham-O was the first company in the United States to mass market their version of the hula hoop so they are often known as the inventors of the hula hoop. This is partially true. The truth is that the hula hoop came from many places.

Hoop Like an Egyptian

The history of the hula hoop

Around 3,000 BCE, the Egyptians were curving rattan and reeds into circles. They spun these hoops around the waist, tossed them in the air, and rolled them along the ground.

History of the hula hoop

It’s All Greek to Me

The Ancient Greeks were the first to popularize the hula hoop. There are ancient documents and art on pottery that shows the hoop in action. The Greeks fashioned hoops from grapevines that were used not only as toys for children, but also as exercise equipment for people who needed a gentle, low-impact workout. Or those who wanted more wiggle room in their toga. Both Greek and Roman children played with hoops constructed with scrap metal.

Eskimos utilized hoops too

Eskimo children in North America used hoops as a learning tool. They practiced their harpooning skills by rolling the hoop and trying to throw a pole through it. This took good hand-eye coordination, timing, and accuracy.

Native American Hoop Dance

History of the hula hoop

Native Americans used hoops for much more than toys and exercise equipment. The hoop has sacred significance for many First Nation and Native American people. Native American Hoop Dance is a form of storytelling that utilizes anywhere from 1-30 hoops that create dynamic and static shapes. A solo dancer uses the hoops to transform into animals and other elements of the story. Shapes such as the eagle, butterfly, coyote, and snake are depicted in the ritual.

The hoop symbolizes the never-ending circle of life

The hoop symbolizes the “never-ending circle of life.” It has no beginning and no end. Tribal groups across North America used hoops in traditional healing ceremonies. Originally, it was a male-only dance form, but in recent years women have become active participants in hoop dance and hoop dance competitions.

Hoop dance utilizes very dynamic, rapid movements. The hoops are usually very small in diameter (1 – 2.5 feet). There are elaborate sequences in which the hoops interlock and are extended from the body to portray wings and tails. It takes years of practice to master this beautiful art form due to its complexity.

The dancers build their hoops out of plastic piping (sometimes wood) wrapped in colorful tape.

Hula Hoop Name Origin

The history of the hula hoop

Hooping came to Great Britain In the 14th century. English households started building homemade hoops that were used by all ages. Hooping became a craze that swept the country. Sadly, this came to a screeching halt when doctors started blaming the use of hoops for back pain and even heart attacks.

Hula Hoops Make a Comeback

Hoops became socially acceptable once again in England in the 1800’s where hoop rolling became a fad. Those hoops were wooden with metal strips or tires on the outer edge. Hoop rolling was called “bowling a hoop.” The hoop was rolled along the ground by hand or with a stick called a skimmer.

Around this time, British sailors traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. This is where they witnessed hula dancing for the very first time. They made the connection between hooping and hula dancing because they looked similar in motion and that is how the term hula hoop was created.

In the early 20th century, a modern version of the hula hoop was made of bamboo in Australia. School children used these hoops as exercise equipment. The demand for hoops became so high that it caught the attention of two American toy manufacturers.


In 1948, Richard Kerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin founded the Wham-O company from their garage in Los Angeles. They named their company “Wham-O” because they were marketing a slingshot created for training pet falcons and hawks. This groundbreaking invention hurled meat at the birds.

History of the hula hoop

Wham-O was the sound the slingshot made when it hit the target and became the company’s catchy name. In the first 6 months, over twenty million Wham-O hoops sold for $1.98 / piece. Wham-O went on to become the most successful hula hoop manufacturer. In 1958, they trademarked the Hula Hoop name and started building hoops out of the new Marlex plastic.

Fun Wham-O Facts

Wham-O manufactures and markets some of the world’s most recognizable consumer brands such as:

Do you have a toy idea? Wham-O is looking for new toy ideas! Click on the link below to submit a proposal:

*BTW, I’m not personally affiliated or sponsored by Wham-O, but I thought it was super cool that they are accepting new ideas. If I had a creative toy idea, I would definitely submit a proposal because you never know what can happen!

Shoop Shoop Hula Hoop!

Wham-o Hoop-Related Facts:

  • Wham-O’s founders Arthur “Spud” Melin and Richard Knerr were both USC graduates. Go Trojans!
  • Today’s modern hula hoop was inspired by bamboo exercise rings that kids is Australia were playing with.
  • In 1957, 25 million hula hoops were sold in less than 4 months.
  • 2 years after its launch, hula hoop sales reached more than 100 million units. This made $45 million in revenue.
  • The hula hoop, superball, and frisbee were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
  • In 1994, the comedy film, “The Hudsucker Proxy” was co-written, directed, and produced by the Coen Brothers. It was a fictionalized account of Wham-o’s invention of the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee.

Original Hula Hoop Commercial | I love the variety of moves that they featured

Hula Hoops are popular worldwide but…

  • Japan banned hula hoops for indecency in the 60’s
  • The British Medical Journal once claimed that the hula hoop was to blame for an increase in back, neck, and abdominal injures.
  • Russia banned hula hoops for being an example of the “Emptiness of American culture.”
  • A news outlet in China called hula hoops “a nauseating craze”
  • Indonesia banned hula hoops because “they might stimulate passion.”

Isn’t it empowering to know that we have such a powerful tool at our disposal?

The history of the hula hoop

Carry on the tradition and start hula hooping today!

My teacher Bee Varga the Hula Hooper offers a Free hula hoop kickstarter course. I highly recommend all of her courses. The best value is her Hula Hoop Studio which gives you access to all of her courses. Click on THIS LINK to claim a Free sneak peek into her studio.

I hope you learned something new today! What are your thoughts?

I hope you enjoyed this quick history of the hula hoop! Researching and writing this article has been an enriching experience for me. I feel like I only scratched the surface and I would like to continue writing about this topic.

Which section of hula hoop history fascinates you the most? Comment below to share!

I had a lot of fun strolling down memory lane as I learned about the toy industry. I am also very interested in Native American Hoop Dance. When I first watched the video I felt a stirring in my soul and want to learn more!

I hope to see you again soon!