Tim Walsh
Tim Walsh

12 Lesser-Known Wham-O Products You Have to See to Believe

Tim Walsh
Tim Walsh

Founded by friends and business partners Rich Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin in 1948, Wham-O is best known for amusement staples like the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Hacky Sack, and Slip ‘N Slide.

For every hit, however, there were more than a few misses: Knerr and Melin never had to answer to a board of investors and were free to experiment with almost any far-fetched idea that popped into their heads. Check out 12 of their lesser-known offerings—some of which would be impossible to market in litigious, civilized society. 

1. EDGED WEAPONS

Before Knerr and Melin dominated the novelty toy market in the 1950s, they specialized in weaponry no suburban child should have had any use for. In addition to a “jungle machete,” Wham-O sold throwing daggers, a tomahawk, and fencing swords. (The company tried separating the two markets by selling their killing tools under the name Wam-O, fooling no one.)    

2. A BLOWGUN

Assuming your child had a machete and a bad attitude, the thing to do would be to simply stay out of arm’s reach. But with the introduction of distance weapons, more covert attacks could be implemented. The company also marketed a slingshot that was packaged with real ball bearings. Surprisingly, none of these resulted in real lawyers filing for real damages.

3. INSTANT FISH

On safari in Africa in the 1960s, Melin discovered a species of fish that lays eggs in dirt; they later hatched after the ground was soaked in rain. Thinking there was money in peddling mud, Melin and Knerr marketed Instant Fish, and took $10 million in pre-orders from retailers. But the fish they brought back never mated in sufficient numbers. Sea Monkeys, which were released around the same time, became the standard in lazy aquariums.

4. GREAT WHITE SHARK TEETH

Wham-O was never one to let a fad pass without trying to capitalize on it. When Jaws became the then-biggest film of all time in 1975, the company marketed a plastic shark-tooth kit that clearly took inspiration from Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley’s creation. Molded, apparently, from a species that has "probably killed more humans than any other shark." Wear it with pride.

See More: How Wham-O got its start. 

5. MR. HOOTIE EGG RAKE

According to Tim Walsh, author of the Wham-O Super Book, Melin and Knerr probably drew this up just to make themselves laugh. In true Wham-O fashion, it was sold anyway. The idea, according to Melin, was to have a utensil that could remove the string (which he dubbed “woogers”) that connects the yolk to the egg shell; more sophisticated owners could use it as a bar tool for olives. In the end, no one used it for anything.

6. DRAW YARN

It’s unlikely Europeans were all that crazy about—or even aware of—a method by which one would draw using yarn. Then again, who would ever think to check? The company marketed this bizarre art kit in 1959.

7. HOME GYM

Wham-O entered the sporting goods market in the 1950s as a kind of segue between their death utensils and the popular outdoor products that would come later. This Charles Atlas-esque resistance band purported to enhance the female form. Melin and Knerr drew up the ad before any product was made to gauge interest before committing to a production run.

8. SUN-VU

A kind of futuristic sombrero following the space-age trend of the ‘50s, the Sun-Vu promised to shield the face from harmful UV rays. Throwing an entire sheet over one’s head may have been more fashionable.

9. TANK

Figuring kids were their own best energy source, Wham-O marketed this giant, eight-foot-long cardboard tank that was operated by climbing inside and walking on all fours. Due to non-military issue materials (paper), it probably didn’t stand up to the wear and tear of a normal backyard siege.   

10. MONORAIL

Cool kids had train sets; cooler kids had monorails. At least, that’s what Wham-O was counting on. But few amateur conductors saw any significant difference to warrant the $12.95 asking price.

11. TURBO TOPS

Asthmatics were best served avoiding this tabletop game, which required players to huff and puff until light-headed victory set in. Previously known as Knock Yer Top Off, Turbo Tops was one of Wham-O's final releases under Melin and Knerr's original ownership: They sold the company in 1982. 

12. BOMB SHELTER COVER

Consumers needed to supply their own ditch-digging in order to survive nuclear annihilation. Released to capitalize on Cold War paranoia, people thought the concept of preparing for doom too depressing to labor over.

See more: How Wham-O got its start

All images courtesy of Tim Walsh.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Emojipedia
9 Smiley Facts About Emoji
Emojipedia
Emojipedia

For many people, speaking in emoji is almost as natural as speaking in, well, words. However, less than two decades ago, the collection of symbols was just a blip on the digital horizon. You may be adept at planning dinner with friends using only smileys and food characters, but how much do you really know about emoji?

1. SHIGETAKA KURITA IS CONSIDERED THE FATHER OF EMOJI.

Getty Images

In 1999, the Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita created the first collection of cell phone emoji for the debut of "the world’s first major mobile internet system," called NTT Docomo's i-mode. The program they were working with "limited users to up to 250 characters in an email," according to Kurita, "so we thought emoji would be a quick and easy way for them to communicate. Plus using only words in such a short message could lead to misunderstandings … It’s difficult to express yourself properly in so few characters." He used a variety of everyday symbols, Chinese characters, street signs, and manga imagery for inspiration, and eventually came up with 176 12-pixel by 12-pixel characters—a much-simplified version of the images we now text on a regular basis.

"At first we were just designing for the Japanese market," Kurita said in 2016. "I didn’t assume that emoji would spread and become so popular internationally. I’m surprised at how widespread they have become. Then again, they are universal, so they are useful communication tools that transcend language."

2. THERE WAS A LOT OF DEBATE ABOUT THE ADDITION OF A HOT DOG.

Seriously. Digital Trends reported on the dispute in 2014, when some users were so incensed over the lack of a hot dog emoji that they even petitioned the White House to make it happen. As it turns out, there is a very good reason that the character wasn’t initially created.

"The problem with the hot dog emoji," Mark Davis, co-founder of the Unicode Consortium, told The Wall Street Journal, "is, what do you then want with the hot dog? Would we do one with ketchup or without?" He makes a valid point—toppings are important. But Kurita wasn’t opposed to adding in the traditional stateside cuisine: "In Japan, we have onigiri [rice ball] emoji, so why not hot dogs? Hot dogs are onigiri for Americans, right?"

(Not to worry—the hot dog won out in 2015, and Apple now has a mustard-covered emoji.)

3. EVEN KURITA IS MYSTIFIED BY THE AMBIGUITY OF THE HEART EMOJI.

"People of all ages understand that a single emoji can say more about their emotions than text," Kurita recently said of his creation. "Emoji have grown because they meet a need among mobile phone users. I accept that it’s difficult to use emoji to express complicated or nuanced feelings, but they are great for getting the general message across." However, even he acknowledges that messages can get mixed when it comes to emoji like the heart, even though he initially designed the heart to mean "love."

"I wouldn’t know if she liked me or not," Kurita told the Verge, when asked what he thinks receiving a heart emoji means, "but I’d think it was a good thing. I wouldn’t think it was a negative."

4. THE ENTIRETY OF MOBY-DICK WAS TRANSLATED INTO EMOJI.

In 2009, Fred Benenson—Kickstarter’s second full-time employee—used his company's platform to fund an emoji-translation project, which he titled Emoji Dick. Benenson was an avid fan of emoji and wanted to find a way to push the characters' creativity. He raised more than $3500 to pay a team to help him translate Herman Melville’s saga of man and whale into emoji. While it doesn’t quite translate in each case, Benenson told Smithsonian magazine, "As a conceptual piece, it’s successful."

But why Moby-Dick, besides the translation’s fantastic title? "I needed a public domain book that I could get the plain-text version of easily," Benenson told The New Yorker. "The Bible seemed too obvious."

These days, Emoji Dick has a place in the Library of Congress, who acquired the work in 2014 and notes that it captures the culture in this particular moment in time. "It’s up to the readers of Emoji Dick to decide whether to take it seriously as content," Michael Neubert, a digital projects specialist at the Library of Congress, said.

If you’re looking for some light reading, you can purchase a copy of the 736-page translation here.

5. EARLY ON, BUSINESSES USED EMOJI TO CONNECT WITH CUSTOMERS.

Keeping in mind that emoji launched in 1999, long before cell phones developed into the tech-savvy devices we have today, emoji originally had much different purposes. For example, The New York Times explains that Docomo, the company that developed emoji, used them to deliver weather reports to pager users.

While this explains many of the weather-related emoji, such as the lightning bolt, sun, umbrella, and snowman, Docomo also used the characters to guide users to local businesses. A hamburger represented fast food, while the martini glass stood for a bar.

"Everything was shown by text. Even the weather forecast was displayed as 'fine,'" Kurita told Storify. "When I saw it, I found it difficult to understand. Japanese TV weather forecasts have always included pictures or symbols to describe the weather—for example, a picture of sun meant 'sunny' … I'd rather see a picture of the sun, instead of a text saying 'fine.'"

6. THE MOST POPULAR EMOJI ISN'T THE SLICE OF PIZZA—OR THE THUMBS UP.

The most popular emoji vary from country to country. In July 2016, Metro reported that Twitter ran some analytics and says the "despairing crying face" is the most-used in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. Another popular choice is the musical notes, which is a top pick in Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Additionally, Twitter users tend to favor the beer emoji over the steaming cup of coffee, and that the full heart is tweeted more frequently than the broken heart. When it comes to food, the birthday cake is most-used, followed by the classic slice of pizza, and the strawberry rounds out the top three.

The popularity of emoji is constantly in flux, so Twitter even did a month-by-month breakdown. Unsurprisingly, the skull was most-used in October, while the Christmas tree owned December. Another classic, the "100" symbol, was the most popular in November.

7. THERE'S A REASON THE IOS POOP EMOJI LOOKS SO SIMILAR TO THE ICE CREAM CONE.

In 2012, New York magazine interviewed Willem Van Lancker, who helped create 400 of the original 500 Apple characters. (The conversation took place over text, naturally.) When asked about the similarity between the poop and ice cream emoji, Van Lancker replied, "Some design elements may have been reused between them …"

8. THE FATHER OF EMOTICONS ISN'T A FAN OF EMOJI.

Long before emoji, people communicated with emoticons—representations of facial expressions created with punctuation marks. While emoji are undoubtedly the more detailed, colorful set of characters, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Scott Fahlman tends to prefer his original form, which he traces to a 1982 message board conversation.

"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways," Fahlman had told the group, and before long, the expression spread and was soon used at other universities before making its way into casual digital conversations worldwide.

But when it comes to emoji, Fahlman told the Independent, "I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that's just because I invented the other kind."

9. THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART OWNS THE ORIGINAL EMOJI COLLECTION.

Getty

Yep, the set of emoji Kurita created back in 1999 is now part of MoMA’s permanent display, starting in December 2016. And they aren't the only digital objects on display: The museum previously acquired the "@" symbol in 2012.

The collection resides in the museum’s lobby and represents a balance between modernity and hieroglyphics, one of the oldest forms of written communication. However, as ancient as the roots of emoji may be, the original collection's influence in modern culture remains strong. "It is hard to overstate it. I mean if you think about it, we cannot live without emojis today," Paola Antonelli, the senior curator in the department of architecture and design, told NPR. "We've become used into condensing our thoughts and our kind of emotions in them."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Your New York City Library Card Now Gets You Free Admission to 33 Museums and Cultural Sites
iStock
iStock

Your New York City library card is good for more than checking out books and downloading music. Starting this summer, your card will get you free admission to 33 cultural institutions around the city, The New York Times reports.

New York's public library system is rolling out its Culture Pass program in an effort to make the city's world-renowned museums and cultural centers more accessible to residents. As long as you have a card from the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, or the Queens Library systems, you can visit Culturepass.nyc and use your card number to reserve a ticket. Participating organizations include the the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, Wave Hill, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum.

Some of the locations on the list are already free without the suggested donation, but others can get pricey. The Museum of Modern Art, for example, costs $25 for adults. Using Culture Pass does come with a few catches: Passes are limited, so if you wait until the last minute you may not be able to reserve one for your preferred day. Cardholders also can only use Culture Pass once per year at each institution, but depending on where they go they can make the most of it: At some organizations like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, a pass is good for entry for up to four guests.

New York isn't the only area that offers free museum tickets to anyone with a library card. Members of public library systems in SeattleNew Jersey, and Los Angeles County, and kids in Chicago, can take advantage of similar programs. And even if your library card can't get you into cultural institutions, it can likely get you other perks you may not be aware of.

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER