Skill Toy Museum

Whirley-Whirler: A New/Old Idea

In 1958, the Hula Hoop craze swept America. Through school demonstrations and press coverage, more than 20 million hoops sold within 4 months. There was no shortage of entrepreneurs hoping to replicate the phenomena of the plastic hula hoop and asking the question: Why can’t I think of something like that?

Television advertising salesman at this time, John Hyatt, remembered "Well I got to thinking about hula hoops and what made them popular. Kids like something that balances and spins – and suddenly I remembered the jugglers and their spinning plates in vaudeville.”

He went on to invent the Whirley-Whirler in 1958. The day of its unveiling at St. Louis’ biggest department store, Hyatt sent his 2 sons to demonstrate the toy. They sold 250 in that first day and went on to sell half a million in the first two months. Of course, others soon followed releasing spinning plates under the names Spin-A-Reeno and the Whirlee Twirlee as displayed here.

Historical Note: Spinning plates actually date back to the Han Dynasty in China  (206BC – 220 AD). Ceramic bowl spinning was performed during the Hundred Entertainments, a spectacular showcase of acrobatic feats used to impress visiting rulers. Plates became popular again in the U.S. in the late 1800s as a vaudeville routine.


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