If you were a kid in the late 1960s, you may have owned one. And if you didn’t own one, you probably envied the kids who did.
Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!
Fifty years ago, children hippity-hopped across the country aboard the Hoppity Hop, a large, inflatable ball introduced by the Sun Corp. of Barberton.
“The ball with hops of fun” jump-started a national craze in 1968.
Manufactured in Barberton with “the finest materials obtainable,” the Hoppity Hop was molded from rugged plastic vinyl and originally was produced in red and blue. It could be inflated to 25 inches in diameter with a hand pump or with the aid of a friendly attendant at a local service station.
The ball featured a ring handle for easy gripping.
“Hop on … hold on … start hopping,” the company advertised. “The entire family will enjoy Sun’s easy-to-ride ‘Hoppity Hop’ ball with its hi-bounce action. ‘Hoppity Hop’ will give the entire family hours of fun and exercise, at home, campground or beach.”
After Sun introduced the ball in 1968 at the American International Toy Fair in New York, the company was flooded with orders. Hoppity Hop cost about $6 a pop (roughly $43 today).
Akron shoppers could purchase it at O’Neil’s, Polsky’s, Clarkins, Gaylords, Spartan, W.E. Wright, Hobby Center, Gray Drug, Jay Discount Drug and, eventually, Children’s Palace.
Within the first three months, more than 300,000 units were sold across the country.
“We were confident it had a lot of merit, but we had no idea demand would be this good,” Sun President T.W. Smith Jr. told the Beacon Journal in 1968.
Former Sun employee Bernard McDermott, an industrial designer with Samuel Scherr in the Akron firm of Scherr & McDermott International, was the creative mind behind Hoppity Hop. McDermott designed the sleek toy that was “so much fun, you’ll want to ride for hours.”
“I can still see the packaging,” said McDermott’s daughter Marianne Moyer, 76, of Peninsula. “I knew the kids on the packaging.”
She was in her 20s when the product was in development, but she recalls trying out one of her father’s prototypes.
“I think I did try bouncing around on it in the living room, and I remember thinking this is really rolly,” she said.
Mark Norris, 57, of New Franklin, was one of the first kids to test Hoppity Hop, although the model he tried was bigger than the one that eventually was sold in stores. He and his sister, Andrea, were pictured on the toy’s packaging, thanks to the advertising connections of their mother, a former model.
“I remember going to a house up in Fairlawn Heights to do the side panel,” Norris said. “Then we went to a bunch of parks and did the front of the box.”
A multiple-exposure photo showed Norris bouncing up and down, apparently having the time of his life. Let it be known that the boy was quite an actor.
“Actually, it was pretty painful,” Norris said. “We did a lot of bouncing.”
So did the rest of the country.
Sun Corp. had more than 300 employees working three shifts in the Barberton factory at 366 Fairview Ave. Founded in 1923 as Sun Rubber Co., the business at one time boasted more than 2,000 products. It shortened its name in the 1960s after dropping rubber as a raw material.
The success of Hoppity Hop helped turn around the company’s finances.
The business had suffered a net loss of nearly $500,000 in 1967. With Hoppity Hop leading the way, Sun bounced back with a profit of $761,719 in 1968.
Sun executive Richey Smith, son of T.W. Smith Jr., appeared on the national TV game show “What’s My Line?” A celebrity panel featuring Soupy Sales, Arlene Francis, Meredith McCrae and Gene Rayburn tried to guess Smith’s line of work.
It didn’t take long to suss out because Sales owned a Hoppity Hop!
The bustling Barberton company inevitably attracted a suitor, Talley Industries, an Arizona company that purchased Sun Corp. in 1969 for more than $6 million.
Hoppity Hop led to a series of spinoff products, beginning with Hoppity Horse, which replaced the ring grip with a caricature of a horse’s head, followed by Disney licensed products Hoppity Donald Duck and Hoppity Mickey Mouse. National TV commercials featured happy kids bouncing from place to place. What child wouldn't want one?
More than 4 million Hoppity Hops were produced during the first five years, but the good times didn’t last — at least not in Barberton.
The new owners played hardball when the United Rubber Workers went on strike in December 1973 over wages and benefits. The parent company shut down the factory in 1974 and moved its operations to Georgia, taking Hoppity Hop and other products with it.
Today, similar products under varying names from multiple manufacturers can be found in toy aisles around the world.
But none can top that craze of 1968.
Barberton is where the ball got rolling 50 years ago.
Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.