Social Studies

Here’s a little background on Peggy Noodle, Hula Hoop Queen, which is set in 1957. My mother was born in 1948, which means she was nine in 1957. I love to hear stories about when she was a little girl, so Peggy Noodle was happy to find a home in the mid-1950s.


Hula Hoop| According to “The hula hoop is an ancient invention – no modern company and no single inventor can claim that they invented the first hula hoop. The Greeks used hooping as a form of exercise. Older hoops have been made from metal, bamboo, wood, grasses, and even vines. However, modern companies “re-invented” their own versions of the hula hoop using unusual materials, for example; plastic hula hoops with added bits of glitter and noise makers, and hoops that are collapsible. Around 1300, hooping came to Great Britain, homemade versions of the toy became very popular. In the early 1800s, British sailors first witnessed hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands. Hula dancing and hooping look somewhat similar and the name “hula hoop” came together.”

“Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin founded the Wham-O company which helped popularize another ancient toy, the frisbee. Knerr and Melin started the Wham-O company from their Los Angeles garage in 1948. The men were marketing a slingshot originally invented for training pet falcons and hawks {it slung meat at the birds). This slingshot was named “Wham-O” because of the sound it made when it hit the target. Wham-O also became the company’s name. Wham-O has become the most successful manufacturer of hula hoops in modern times. They trademarked the name Hula Hoop ® and start manufacturing the toy out of the new plastic Marlex in 1958. Twenty million Wham-O hula hoops sold for $1.98 in the first six months.” Cool, huh?

– – > Watch this Bee Girl hula hoop

West Side Story | West Side Story is a modern musical adaptation of one of my favorite plays by William Shakespeare called Romeo and Juliet. It’s a romantic tragedy set in the mid-1950s, and focuses on social problems of a community with a diverse ethnic background. It’s about a young boy and girl who fall in love, but their families are rivals. Instead of the rival families in Romeo and Juliet–the Montague’s and Capulets–West Side Story is about two rival gangs in New York City called the Jets and the Sharks. The original Broadway production debuted in 1957. It was nominated for a Tony Award for best musical that year, but won the Tony for choreography instead. In 1961 a movie musical adaptation was made, and was a fan favorite.

– – – > Watch the movie prologue HERE.

Superman| Superman was created in 1932 by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster. Superman was not only a cultural icon, but also helped create the superhero genre. Over the years, Superman has appeared in radio and television programs, newspapers, comic books, movies, and video games. It’s interesting to learn that The Great Depression is an early influence on the story of Superman. According to Wikipedia: “Superman took on the role of social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians and demolishing run-down tenements. This is seen by comics scholar Roger Sabin as a reflection of ‘the liberal idealism of Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal,’ with Shuster and Siegel initially portraying Superman as champion to a variety of social causes.”

In 2000, when my son was two and learning to use the potty on his own, we knew that he loved superheroes as much as we did, so his prize for success was being able to wear his Superman or Batman Underoos (I wore Wonder Woman Underoos when I was a little girl). In fact, I love to sew costumes and made him a handful of Superman and Batman capes that we had all over the place–in our cars, at his grandparents houses, upstairs and downstairs. I even made adult-sized capes for my husband and I to wear with him. There are many times when I went grocery shopping with our son in his cape … and me in mine. I love the idea of Superman, and as an ever-hopeful idealist, wish there was someone so simple as Superman to help fix many of the world’s troubles today.

– – – > Watch this classic opening for the 1957 television series, Superman … faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

Sputnik | The Soviet Union put the first artificial satellite into space–called Sputnik–into orbit on October 4, 1957. Actually, the word “Sputnik” means “companion” or “satellite” in Russian. According to NASA: “The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm.or 22.8 inches in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg. or 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race. “

– – – > Listen to this Telemetry from Sputnik I as it passed overhead (NASA)

Wham-O | Wham-O Inc. is a California toy company that started over 60 years ago. They’re known for a ton of fun, popular toys, like the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee, the Hacky Sack, and the Boogie board. It was started by two guys in a family garage. According to Wikipedia: “Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, two University of Southern California college graduates unhappy with their employment, began the company in 1948 as “WHAM-O Mfg. Co.” in the Knerr family garage in South Pasadena, California. Their first product was the Wham-O slingshot, made of ash wood, which Knerr and Melin would promote by showing off their own skills at demonstrations.” That would be a great workday, wouldn’t it?

Like Wham-O says, “Hooping is a fun activity for the entire family to do together.”

– – > Watch this vintage Wham-O hula hoop commercial

Univac I | The UNIVAC I was the first commercial computer produced in the United States. According to Wikipedia: “The UNIVAC I (UNIVersal Automatic Computer I) was designed principally by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, the inventors of the ENIAC. The first UNIVAC was delivered to the United States Census Bureau on March 31, 1951, and was dedicated on June 14 that year. The fifth machine (built for the US Atomic Energy Commission) was used by the CBS Broadcast company to predict the result of the 1952 presidential election. With a sample of just 1% of the voting population it correctly predicted that Dwight Eisenhower would win.”

In Peggy Noodle, Hula Hoop Queen, the kids are right that using the UNIVAC I was unnecessary for counting the votes for the Hoopla. Can you imagine how fast the UNIVAC I would have tallied the votes from one small community? It would be like THAT … SNAP!

– – > Check out this cool fact: The machine was 25 feet by 50 feet in length, contained 5,600 tubes, 18,000 crystal diodes, and 300 relays. It utilized serial circuitry, 2.25 MHz bit rate, and had an internal storage capacity 1,000 words or 12,000 characters.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mamie Eisenhower | Dwight Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States, a five-star general in the US Army, and is often ranked as one of the top ten American Presidents. His term spanned from January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961.  According to the White House: “Bringing to the Presidency his prestige as commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower obtained a truce in Korea and worked incessantly during his two terms to ease the tensions of the Cold War. He pursued the moderate policies of “Modern Republicanism,” pointing out as he left office, “America is today the strongest, most influential, and most productive nation in the world.”

– – > Read more at the Eisenhower Presidential Library
– – > Read more at the White House dot gov
– – > Read more from the PBS series American Experience, on US Presidents

Edsel | Sadly, the Edsel went down in history as Ford’s automotive failure of the 1950s. According to, the Edsel’s bad vibes are predominately due to bad marketing … because otherwise, “It really wasn’t that bad a car. True, the car was kind of homely, fuel thirsty and too expensive, particularly at the outset of the late ’50s recession.” Since the marketing people at Ford, the ones who tell you what’s cool and why, made it sound too good to be true … and were way too good at their jobs: “Ford’s marketing mavens had led the public to expect some plutonium-powered, pancake-making wondercar; what they got was a Mercury.”

– – > Watch this vintage Edsel commercial

Ticker-Tape Parade | According to Wikipedia: “The term originated in New York City after a spontaneous celebration held on October 28, 1886 during the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and is still most closely associated with New York City. The term ticker-tape originally referred to the use of the paper output of ticker tape machines, which were remotely driven devices used in brokerages to provide updated stock market quotes. Nowadays, the paper products are largely waste office paper that have been cut using conventional paper shredders. The city also distributes paper confetti … They are generally reserved now for space exploration triumphs, military honors and sports championships. The section of lower Broadway through the Financial District that serves as the parade route for these events is colloquially called the “Canyon of Heroes“. Lower Broadway in New York City has plaques in the sidewalk at regular intervals to celebrate each of the city’s ticker-tape parades.”

According to, there have been only three Ticker-Tape parades this decade: “one for the Yankees fresh off their World Series victory in 2000, one for the Giants after they won the Superbowl last year [2008],” and the Yankees again in 2009.

– – > Watch this video of astronaut John Glenn’s Ticker-Tape parade after he was the first to orbit the Earth