Richard Knerr, The Entrepreneur Who Gave You Hoola Hoop, Frisbee, Hacky Sack And Silly String Dies

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Mon, 2008-01-21 10:30.

Richard Knerr, co-founder of the company that introduced America to the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee and other iconic toys, died on Monday, January 14th. The 82-year-old entrepreneur passed away at Methodist Hospital after suffering a stroke earlier in the day at his home in Arcadia, Calif. 

Much like Apple, Disney, and Hewlett-Packard, Wham-O started in a garage. As a student at the University of Southern California in 1948, Knerr launched a falcon training business with his childhood friend, Arthur "Spud" Melin.

Knerr and Melin trained the birds by launching high-speed meatballs at them from slingshots. When customers turned out to be more interested in buying slingshots than falcons, the partners binned their bird business and started producing slingshots.

"We called them Wham-O slingshots because, well, that's the sensation you felt when you hit something," said Knerr in a 2003 interview with Fortune Small Business.

Wham-O followed up with a series of hunting tools, including boomerangs and crossbows, but finally struck gold in 1957 when the founders came across a flying disk invented by a building inspector named Walter Fredrick Morrison. Knerr and Melin bought the rights to the toy, renamed it Frisbee, and launched a lasting craze that even spawned a new sport, Ultimate Frisbee.

"The Hula Hoop and Frisbee just took off, like Scrabble or bobby socks or zoot suits," said Nancy Young, co-author of American Popular Culture Through History: The 1950's. "I think Wham-O hit the population's fancy. The company was visionary enough, or maybe just lucky enough, to grasp onto the Hula Hoop and Frisbee and pick up patents for the products."

Over the next 60 years, Wham-O turned out a consistent stream of inexpensive fad products, such as the Slip N' Slide, the Limbo Game, Silly String, and the Hacky Sack.

The company's most recognized contribution to American pop culture remains the Hula Hoop. Knerr and Melin discovered Australian children using a bamboo ring for exercise and brought it to the hip-twisting youth of the 1950's.

In 1982 Knerr and Melin sold Wham-O to Kransco Group Companies for $12 million. The company was later sold to Mattel, which ultimately spun it off to an investor group.

Knerr is survived by his wife Dorothy, three children from his first marriage, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.

[Via - CNNMoney.Com

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