Frisbee, Super Balls, Slip-n-Slide, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic! How many Wham-O toys did you have?
Their products and marketing captured the imagination of a generation, a zany touchstone to that heady decade known as “The Sixties.” Quintessentially Californian, Wham-O and their toys reflected the West Coast’s “casual, outdoor living” lifestyle.
Started in the late 1940s by Arthur “Spud” Mellin and Richard Knerr, best friends from their days at the University of Southern California, they named the company after the sound a slingshot (their first product) made when it hit its target.
Wham-O hit it big in 1958 with their version of the “Hula Hoop,” selling 25 million of them in four months at a price of $1.98 each, starting a national craze. Around the same time, Wham-O capitalized on the nation’s obsession with UFOs, acquiring the rights to a toy designed by inventor and entrepreneur Fred Morrison, called the “Pluto Platter.” It is rumored they changed the name to “Frisbee” either being influenced by a comic strip called “Mr. Frisbie” or by the Frisbie Pie Co. tins. In 1961, Wham-O released the “Slip-n-Slide” followed by the “Super Ball” in 1965.
For you readers who are also engineers, the “Super Ball” was made of a relatively hard elastomer Polybutadiene alloy dubbed “Zectron,” exhibiting a remarkable 0.92 coefficient of restitution when bounced on hard surfaces. The company sold some 20 million of these during the 1960s and the NFL actually named the Super Bowl after the toy.
Always trying to take advantage of existing national trends, Wham-O also came out with a “do-it-yourself” bomb shelter cover (1960), a limbo dance kit (1962) and in 1975 when the movie Jaws was released, they sold plastic shark teeth. They also brought us the Boogie Board and Hacky Sacks.
After almost 70 years of endlessly entertaining toys, Wham-O is putting out new physical toys and trying to keep up with the digital age. Their newest foray is an apps that allow players to “throw” a Frisbee through your phone.
Here are some great old commercials for Wham-O products. How many did you own?
“The most amazing ball every created by science. Energized Super Ball is now in your hands!” “Strange! Weird!”
Super Elastic Bubble Plastic
Wham-O gets the most out of their advertising dollars, squeezing in two products in one :30 spot!
“Super Stuff! Not a dough or a putty, but a new, new stuff!”
“It’s strange and eerie, a wonderful weirdy.”
Slip-N-Slide and WAMM-O Water Wiggle
“The Water Wiggle may pop up at any minute! Boo!!!”
“It’s a flying saucer…that YOU command!” Unwieldy lyrics and tune
Granny pulls an Air Blaster out from beneath her quilt and blasts Dad’s match as he tries to light his pipe! Hilarity ensues! (0:24)
The packaging featured 1960s icon Rat Fink, and the image was widely distributed on T-shirts, posters, and decals. This commercial featured Kathryn Minner, the original “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” (0:52)