There was a group of us kids from the neighborhood that rode our bicycles all day long through the street of my small Alabama home town. We knew short-cut and could get anywhere. We loved our bikes. We all had the high handlebars with the banana seats. A few even had the wheelie bar on the back of the bike. This was a bar that attached to the rear tire and frame of the bike so you could ride around on the back tire.
This wheelie bar was something kids my age loved and it was popular because of cartoon drawing we had seen called “Rat Fink.” He was a hot-rod car that was a green, depraved-looking mouse with bulging, bloodshot eyes, an oversized mouth with yellowed, narrow teeth, and a red T-shirt with yellow “R.F.” on it. Rat Fink use the wheelie bar and so did we. The bicycle attachment was made by a popular toy company called Wham-o.
Wham-o has made many of the toys from my childhood besides the wheelie bar. The Superball, Slip ‘N Slide and Silly String are just a few. One of the most popular, of course, has the be the Frisbee.
The Wham-O toy company was started by Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, two college graduates unhappy with their employment, who began the company in a Los Angeles, California, garage in 1948.
It is Wham-O founder Richard Knerr who has taken that Final Taxi at the age of 82.
The two toymakers first market idea was a slingshot. The idea came up as the young men hurled meat into the air for the training of pet falcons and hawks. The slingshot was called Wham-O to resemble the sound of a target being hit. It stuck as the name of the company.
They branched into other sporting goods, including boomerangs and crossbows. When a friend told them in 1958 about a large ring used for exercise in Australia, they devised their own version and called it the Hula Hoop. Before they knew it the toy had created one the biggest fads in history. 25 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 Hula Hoop fad slowly was dying out.
Around the same time, they bought the rights to a plastic flying disc invented by Walter ”Fred” Morrison, who called it the Pluto Platter. Wham-O bought the rights and renamed it the 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.
Knerr had other products that tried to take advantage of existing national trends. In the 1960s, Wham-O came out with a US$119 do-it-yourself bomb shelter. 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.
Of course for me my favorite thing Wham-O made as a comic book. This one was one you could share with others. Most comic were so small only you could look at it, but with Wham-O Giant Comics you could lay in a floor and spread this 3 foot tall book across the living room floor. The art was great and stories were well written.
Other products invented by Richard Knerr included: The Hacky Sack, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic, Magic Sand, Boomerang, Water Wiggle, and so much more.