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Wham-O

Wham-O Inc. is a toy company currently located in California, USA. They are known for marketing many popular toys, including the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee, Slip 'N Slide, Super Ball, Super Stuff and Trac-Ball.

Corporate History

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, California. 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.

Their first market idea was a slingshot. The idea came up as the founders hurled meat into the air for the training of pet falcons and hawks. The name Wham-O was used because it was a term the founders used as a sound effect when they released the sling.

Timeline

  • 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, Flying Saucer / Frisbee first marketed
  • 1958, Hula Hoop first marketed by WHAM-O
  • 1958, the Hula Hoop craze occurs
  • 1958, Flying Saucer / Frisbee sales improve
  • 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
  • 1994, Mattel bought Wham-O from Kransco.
  • 1997, Wham-O became independent again when a group of investors purchased the company from Mattel
  • January 2002, 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.
  • 2008, Richard Knerr passes away.

As of 2007, US headquarters is in Emeryville, California.

Products and Marketing

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, 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.

In the early 1960s, they created the Super Ball. It was made of a relatively hard elastomer alloy dubbed Zectron, exhibiting a remarkable 0.92 coefficient of restitution when bounced on hard surfaces. They sold some 20 million of them during the 1960s.

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 to hatch them in. Its debut at a New York toy fair made it wildly popular, but the fish couldn't produce eggs fast enough, so the idea was dropped.

Other products included:

Strategy

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 out to playgrounds to reach them. They also did extensive research to find new product ideas, including traveling all over the world.

For many years, the company's product strategy was to have a stable of 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 weren't expensive or complicated, they were sold by a wide variety of retailers, from large department stores to corner Five and dime shops.

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 manufacturer Personal water craft; Wham-O makes a "Sea-Doo" product line of small inflatable rafts designed to be towed behind the watercraft.

Product lines are also more complex, and are grouped into related categories; the Sea-Doo line has around a dozen products, there are several Slip 'N Slide variations, a group of "lawn games" and so on.

Wham-O, ultimate, disc golf and the flying disc market

Wham-O and the community of players of the flying disc game ultimate had a somewhat troubled relationship during the 1970s. Wham-O was, of course, pleased that there was a new and popular sport that used their products; around 1969, they even shipped a case of Frisbees to ultimate's inventors to replace discs that broke in low temperatures. They were not comfortable, however, with the idea that they did not control or own the sport in any way. At one point they originated their own flying disc game as a competitor to ultimate, sponsoring tournaments and other promotions. This effort failed.

An additional complication was Wham-O's desire to protect the Frisbee trademark; the sport was frequently referred to as Ultimate Frisbee, and there was also an International Frisbee Association that was not affiliated with Wham-O. The game is now officially called just "ultimate", dropping Frisbee from the name.

Since the mid-1980s, Wham-O Frisbees have gone from being the standard disc for Ultimate to a far less dominant position. Discraft discs are the standard for many high-level tournaments. Similarly, Discraft makes a range of over one dozen different disc golf discs, while Wham-O (as of 2006) makes only three. Other Ultimate Players Association-approved discs that are gaining popularity are the Canadian-made Daredevil and Innova Champion Pulsar brand discs. Daredevil has also recently launched a new line of golf discs, while the Pulsar is the official disc for the sport of Goaltimate

Miscellany

  • In 2003 Wham-O sued to have the film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star removed from theaters until the "Slip 'N Slide" scene was removed. They claimed it violated the product's safety instructions.
  • A fictionalized account of the invention of two Wham-O products, the Hula-Hoop and Frisbee, is depicted in the film The Hudsucker Proxy, though the company is mentioned only in the end credits of the film.
  • During the 1960s and 1970s when Wham-O was a publicly traded corporation, stockholders who attended the annual shareholders meeting at corporate headquarters were given access to a substantial supply of free products. At the conclusion of the meeting, crates of Frisbees, and other products were opened and all present were allowed to take away as much as they could carry. As word of this spread over time, the annual meeting became packed with southern California children taking the day off from school.

References

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