Wham-O at 75: Jonathan Becker on Frisbee, Hula Hoop, Hacky Sack, Jazwares Pets and more

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

So, Jonathan! Lovely to see you; this is long overdue. I’m so glad we’re catching up…
Yeah, I know – we’re so overdue. Thanks for making time!

Not at all; thank you. I wanted to tie in so that we could discuss the 75th anniversary of Wham-O… For those not in the know – and that can’t be many – what are some of Wham-O’s better known products?
Wham-O is one of those rare brands that has more than one well-known sub-brand. Still, I would say Frisbee is one of Wham-O’s most famous – and arguably the most famous flying toy of all time. Known worldwide, the Frisbee disc has become virtually synonymous with any disc-shaped flying toy – in the same way Kleenex has for tissues. But, of course Frisbee, like the other Wham-O brands is a Registered Trademark, giving Wham-O the exclusive right to to the Frisbee trademark for toys.

You know, I hadn’t really thought about that. But yes… It’s one of those names that’s so famous, it’s now used for the type of object rather than the brand!
And you know, its design was based on the 1950’s public’s perception of a what a U.F.O. looked like. As such, it’s now the most well recognised flying toy in the world? And you mention that Wham-O is 75, but Frisbee itself is 65 this year! It was introduced in 1956 as the Puto Platter, then renamed Frisbee and trademarked in 1957.

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

Sold any?!
Over 500 million Frisbee’s have been sold in over 100 countries. Along with the Hula Hoop, Frisbee was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998. Due it’s longevity as a Register Trademark, the U.S. Trademark Registration for Frisbee is considered an incontestable trademark registration under U.S. law. Beyond that, Frisbee has spawned hundreds of amateur leagues, and even a professional league.

There’s a professional league?
Yes. It might surprise you, but yes – the players get paid!

Wow. Like the song says, Jonathan: Nice work if you can get it … And if you get it, won’t you tell me how?!
Ha! There’s also spinoff versions like Frisbee Golf, also known as Disc Golf. That has a national tour with prize money. There’s also Ultimate Frisbee, or Ultimate Disc, which will be an Olympic sporting event in 2026.

How did the Frisbee come about?
The history of Frisbee is fascinating. Many people know the story of the Frisbee Pie Company from New Haven Connecticut, whose pie tins were thrown by Yale students for sport… That’s thought to be the origin of the Frisbee. But before we talk more about that, is it okay to talk about the other amazing Wham-O brands?

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

Oh, you can tell you’re a salesman, Jonathan! Expertly done. And yes, we can certainly do that. Not least of all because Wham-O has a number of household-brand names… They’re all of interest!
I think almost every American can point to one of the Wham-O brands and say,“That was one of my favourite toys!”

Is that true for you?
It is. For me it was the Super Ball. When my dad brought home a box full of Super Balls – this would be around 1964, ’65 – my brothers and I bounced every one as high and as far as we could until we lost every single one! So that was my favourite. Wham-O’s catalog of iconic toys also includes Hula Hoop, one of the greatest toy crazes in history. Then there’s Slip ’n’ Slide, Hacky Sack, and Boogie Board, among others… So Wham-O has a great history of mega-hit brands that are still being enjoyed today.

A number of those clearly appeal to a real sense of nostalgia. What’s driving that, do you think? Why are so many people looking to the past for their fun?
Yes, nostalgia plays a big part of the appeal. But also, the appeal includes the fact that countless wonderful memories are tied to these iconic toys. There’s a good chance that one or more of the Wham-O toys were a part of someone’s childhood, and this connection gives people a ‘good feeling’, a sense of security, which is very important. I imagine you played with some in the UK?

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

Yes, my brother was a dab foot with the Hacky Sack. Personally, I wasn’t very sporty as a child, but I loved Frisbee. I’d happily sprint off after one of those!
On most days, weather permitting, it’s hard to not see someone playing with a Frisbee in the local park or on the beach!

And being the age that it is, what do we know of Wham-O’s origins? Who founded the company? Tell us the background!
The History of Wham-O’s founding is fascinating. It’s so interesting, I really think it would make a great movie. In fact, another founder of a toy company, Bob Moog of University Games, actually wrote a yet-to-be-released musical about the history of the Wham-O founders. Wouldn’t it be great to see that story on the Broadway stage?!

Is that right? I had absolutely no idea! I might ask him about that when I see him. But, tell me this… One thing I noticed about the company is that it has – by comparison to its age – a pretty focussed number of lines… 230 or so, as I recall. So in what kind of ideas is Wham-O interested? What’s the secret sauce that makes products right for Wham-O?
That’s a great question. There’s a common thread that runs through all the Wham-O products. First, the idea must be demonstrative. Second, it must have the potential to become a fad.

Oh, wow. That’s wonderfully succinct… It must be demonstrative, and it must have the potential to become a fad. That’s great, thank you. Tell me: what’s your involvement with the company? How do you work with inventors and companies?
Anjar & Becker Associates are the exclusive outbound licensing agent for the Wham-O legacy brands. The legacy brands include the most famous Wham-O brands, some of which we’ve been discussing… Namely, Frisbee, Hula Hoop, Super Ball, Hacky Sack. There’s also Slip ’n’ Slide, Boogie Board, Trac-Ball, and the Wham-O brand itself.

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

In our role, we’re looking for partners whose products complement – not compete with – Wham-O’s current line-up of products. Intersport Corp., doing business as Wham-O, has a robust R&D, marketing and sales department, that – in addition to the ‘legacy’ brands – develops, markets and sells a wide range of Wham-O branded products.

Wham-O has launched a brand extension with Jazwares… Pet toys! What can you tell us about that? What can we expect?
Wow, we couldn’t be more excited! As everyone knows, the pet space has exploded over the past couple of years, and traditional toy companies like Jazwares have jumped into the market… Jazwares has done it with a newly created division, Jazwares Pets. Under the leadership of Michael Pisors and Erin Law, Wham-O Pets. It’s a line of fantastic pet toys based on Wham-O’s key brands, including Frisbee, Super Ball, Hacky Sack, Hula Hoop and Slip ’n’ Slide.

Slip ’n’ Slide’s in there? Wow!
What can I say, Deej? Dogs love water! The Wham-O Pets line launched in May at over 1,500 Pet Smart locations across the US, on end caps and year-round in-line in all their stores. The lineup includes traditional pet toys, such as balls, rope and pull toys and feeding toys… But there are also some fantastic innovations. In fact, Jazwares has used its incredible resources, reaching out to the inventing community to bring innovation and fun to both pets and their owners!

Terrific answer! Thanks Jonathan. All right, we need to wrap this up, but – final question – what’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
Oh, man! I should’ve been ready for this question; you always ask people! Let me think… Alright – I would say the most interesting object is a set of door handles from the Toy Building; 200, 5th Avenue building.

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

Go on…
I practically grew up in the building, and we were the second to last tenant to vacate the building before it was shut down about 20 years ago for renovation by the then-new owners. It was a bit past its prime.

Like a British school?!
Yes, we have heard! But the door handles are so beautiful! They’re brass and have the 200, 5th Avenue logo moulded into them. As I say, they’re actually quite beautiful for door handles. The reason I keep them on a desk in my office – as a paper weight – is because it acts as a constant reminder of my past, where I came from, and especially the time I spent with my dad growing up with him in that building. Like a lot a people, for me, nostalgia is an important part of the here and now.

What’s a lovely answer. Perfect. Well, let’s wrap things up with a promise, Jonathan… Because you mention your dad, James Becker. As many readers will know, he was the recipient of an award at the Inventors Dinner here in the UK: the International Designer/Inventor of Toys… The I.D.I.O.T. Award. I’d be thrilled to talk to you about your dad if you’d do me that honour?
Deej, I would love to do that! My father was – and of course I’m biased when I say this – but he wasn’t just a warm and loving father. He was an amazing man… He was an adventurer. He was a pioneer; he was a daredevil from the very beginning. He was fearless. He’s been such a role model for me. I was really privileged to work for him and with him… He’s been gone now a dozen years, but to this day, when confronted with difficult choices, I often ask myself how would how would dad deal with it? So I would love to have that conversation. .

Well, that sounds like it’s a two-tea conversation Jonathan. Let’s absolutely do that, and soon!

Jonathan Becker, Wham-O

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