From Hula Hoops to Zhu Zhu Hamsters

Published 7:22 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tis the season for giving and receiving. I hope you have bought your child a Zhu Zhu Hamster by now.

If not, you may be out of luck. Of course, you could settle for a Bakugan Maxus Draganoid. You may be thinking that I am out of my mind talking about a Zhu Zhu or a Draganoid. Well, what if I said a slinky?

Most of you over the age of 30 would recognize a slinky or a hula hoop or an Etch a Sketch. But, if you are a kid, you would be just as lost talking about hula hoops as I would be trying to conjure up what a Draganoid might look like.

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Believe it or not, though, there is a common thread between Zhu Zhus and hula hoops. They both are best-selling Christmas gifts. The only difference is the eras.

When I was boy the standard gift for my brother and me was a set of faux-pearl handled six guns. Add a cowboy hat, a pair of boots, and a box of caps and Santa Claus would have surely been good. In another year, the motif might have been football suits or army fatigues. A stocking full of fresh, Florida fruit and a box of Nestle’s Crunches would have served to complete any of the Christmases of my youth. It was an exciting time of the year.

I heard a report on National Public Radio last week about the most popular gift of this year, and it was the aforementioned Zhu Zhu Hamster. They are not real animals, but motorized, fake animals that look like hamsters. They have electronics on the inside that enable them to move like real hamsters and they have names like Mr. Squiggles, Pipsqueek and Num Num. They retail for about $10 if you can find one. They are about to sell out, though, and their resale value on Ebay is edging up to about $40.

Zhu Zhu Hamsters are simply this year’s “must have” gift. I don’t know who or what marketer chooses which gift gets that “must have” designation, but once it gets it, the public follows dutifully to the cash registers with their hard-earned dough.

That brings me to some recent research. What are the greatest sellers in the history of “must have” Christmas gifts?

Probably the biggest seller of all time is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Don’t recognize that name? Although our last names are the same, she is no kin to me. You might know her better as Barbie. She was born March 9, 1959, to George and Margaret Roberts of Willows, Wis. She still looks good and continues as a best seller. Even 50 years after her birth, two Barbie dolls are sold every second when you consider her world-wide sales.

I mentioned hula hoops, those plastic, round hoses that are slipped over the body and settled upon the hips. Move the hips a little and the hula hoop goes round and round. I used to be able to work a hula hoop, but the last time I tried it, I looked like a doofus and the hoop fell to the ground.

They were the “must have” gift of 1958, although they had been around for a long, long time. The craze was re-introduced in Australia in 1957, but really took off when the Wham-O company brought the idea to California and the United States in 1958. About 100 million hula hoops were sold as Christmas came and went in 1958.

By the way, the Wham-O company introduced another great Christmas gift, the Frisbee. Imagine being a stockholder in a company that had two great “must haves!”

I checked on some of the most popular Christmas gifts, mostly toys, for the last hundred years. Did you know that around 1900, Crayola crayons were the craze. Also during that first decade of the 20th century, we were introduced to Lionel trains and teddy bears.

The next decade brought Raggedy Ann dolls, Tinker toys and Lincoln logs. An interesting fact about Lincoln logs is that the creator was John Lloyd Wright. His father was the world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The only toy that I wrote down from the “20s” has had a long and glorious history. It was the yo-yo.

Board games have always been a popular gift and one of the greatest of all board games was created during the Great Depression. You’ve probably guessed by now that it was Monopoly.

Another board game came to us during the World War II years. Its name? Scrabble.

Plus, two great and venerable gifts were created during that decade. One was that little, black ball that has sat on many a desk or table called the Magic 8 ball. Ask a question and it gives 20 different answers. It was created in 1946.

A year earlier, in 1945 at Gimbels Department store in Philadelphia, 400 units of a crazy, twisting toy called a slinky went on sale. All 400 units sold in 90 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I think I have had 400 slinkies, myself, through the years.

The 1950’s brought us Silly Putty, Play-Doh and as mentioned before, the hula hoop and Barbie.

In the 1960s we were crashing the stores to buy Easy Bake Ovens, Etch a Sketches, and a party game called Twister.

Two great gifts of the 1970s were Rubik’s Cube and mood rings. Plus all the Star Wars characters and their weaponry.

My daughter was born in 1982, and I had quite a time finding a Cabbage Patch doll for her. Her name was Deanna, and she really was born in Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Ga. I also searched every mall between Nashville and home looking for a Barbie Soda Shoppe. I found it, thank the Lord!

Remember Beanie Babies, Teletubbies, Game Boys and Pokemon? That was in the 1990s.

Now were in a brand new century. The gifts are much more complicated, expensive and computerized. As the old, Virginia Slims advertisement said, “We’ve come a long way.” Or have we?

Whether it is a hula hoop or a Zhu Zhu Hamster, we’re still lining up to get the one gift that somebody else tells us we “must have.”