Wham-O was the unquestioned king of kid fads during the 1960s. They started hot with the Hula Hoop and finished even hotter with the Frisbee (a fad that never, ever went away). In between, they gave us the SuperBall!
The SuperBall was a compact little piece of toy dynamite. When dropped, it rebounded to nearly 100% of the original height. When thrown with a little (or a lot) of force, it could sail over houses and even reach high enough to shatter lights in school gymnasium ceilings. The ball will also bounce in crazy ways if you put spin on it.
The ball was invented by chemist Norman Stingley in 1964. He created a complex batch of synthetic rubber he named Zectron. He offered his invention to his employer, the Bettis Rubber Company. They couldn’t see much use for it and told Stingley he was free to shop it elsewhere.
When we were growing up, did any of us not either have this game or play it at friends’ homes?
The term “cootie” was first coined by U.S. soldiers during World War I. They used it to describe any of the various vermin like lice and bugs that infested the trenches in which the war was waged. When they returned after the war, they brought the term home with them. Kids, in particular, liked using it.
Cootie, the game, was created in 1948 by a Minneapolis postman named William Sharper. Sharper liked to whittle and the first “cootie” was whittled by him as a fishing lure. When he finished the lure, he got the idea of turning it into a kid’s toy.
Sharper had a little store where he sold homemade popcorn machines. He started selling his wooden cooties there. After a year of pretty good sales, Sharper decided to build a game around assembling his somewhat oversize critter. He formed the W. H. Sharper Manufacturing Company and began creating his cooties in plastic. He approached Dayton’s, a local department store, and got them to carry Cootie on a consignment basis. By the end of 1950, Dayton had sold nearly 6,000 sets of the game, not bad for a local product with no advertising. Those sales convinced a distribution company to begin carrying Sharper’s creation nationwide. By 1952, over 1 million Cootie games had been sold. Thereafter, Sharper’s company sold a million a year until well into the 1960s. As time passed, Sharper added other games to his line such as Tumble Bug, Inch Worm and Busy Bee.
Eventually, Sharper sold his creation to Tyco Toys in 1973. By 1976, Hasbro acquired Cootie which it still sells to this day.
So, raise a glass to the only cooties any kid really wanted to have!
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