The History Of The Yo Yo

The yo yo is the second oldest toy in the world. Read about the fascinating history of one of the world's most beloved toys.

It seems the yo-yo has been around forever, and in many senses, it has.


The yo-yo is the second oldest toy in the world, next to the doll. Historians have successfully unearthed ancient Greek yo-yos (or "discs," as they were called then) constructed of painted terra cotta, wood, and metal, and decorated with images of mythological creatures. Images of yo-yos can also be seen on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples.


It is now believed that the first actual use of the yo-yo was not for pleasure, but for protection. Around 500 B.C., it was a custom for a child to offer one of his discs to the gods for protection and goodwill. Ancient documents tell us that what we know as the yo-yo, was also a favorite mind boggler of such important historical figures as Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington.


According to a rather specious history given by the Duncan yo yo company, around the 16th century, yo-yos became less an offering to the gods and more a tool used by hunters in the Philippines. Wild animals were easily captured by hunters who armed themselves with long cord bearing rocks. By dropping the rock and retrieving it at will through its cord, the hunter was able to protect himself from animals and secure food for his family, as well. This has been all but debunked as physics and common sense will attest.


Though it is believed that the yo-yo served as a toy for young children in many countries for years, the first actual image of a child playing with a yo-yo type device comes from India. A decorative box from the year 1765 that was unearthed by scientists, contains a painted image of a young girl playing with a disc-like toy and string. There are several documents which support the theory that the yo-yo traveled from India to Europe and Great Britain over the following 25 years. By 1789, yo-yos were already transforming. French yo-yos from that time period were made of glass and ivory and were considered toys for the affluent.


Early historical documents suggest that the yo-yo held therapeutic, as well as entertainment value. In the mid 1700s, persons who had been sentenced to death were allowed to play with yo-yos on their way to the guillotine. Later on, Beaumarchais, a French playwright, would feature a yo-yo in "The Marriage of Figaro," as his main character seeks to relieve nervous tension.


The first recorded reference to the yo-yo in the U.S. comes out of 1866 Ohio, where a creative team requested a patent for an invention they deemed, "an improved bandalore." Their toy was made of heavy weighted rims and thick rope, but never manufactured for public use.

Up until this point, yo-yos worked in only one direction-down. There was no returning the disc, as we see with today's models. The return wheel, which allows the toy to shoot back into one's hand, was developed by German immigrant, Charles Kirchof. Even the development of such a feature did not make the contraption a success in the United States, however.

It would take an immigrant of the Philippines and his creative mind to make the yo-yo was it is today. Pedro Flores moved to the U.S. in the early 1920s, and after long shifts as a bellhop in California, he carved and constructed wooden discs that he could play with in his spare time. Taking his creation to work one day, Flores attracted a crowd bewildered and excited by his invention. Within a short time, Flores launched his own company and began manufacturing the yo-yo. The first of its kind yo-yo factory was called the "Flores Yo-Yo Company."


In 1929, a young entrepreneur named Donald Duncan discovered Flores, and bought out the company and the name, yo-yo. The same man who is credited with the development of Good Humor ice cream on a stick and the parking meter, put together a creative staff that developed the first-ever looped slip string, which enabled the yo yo to rest at the bottom of the string or "sleep." This discovery would amaze the world and within a few years, yo-yo masters were performing tricks with the new Duncan yo-yo and delighting crowds everywhere.


Up until this time, yo-yos were constructed of lightweight wood and string. In the early 1950s, hoping for a lighter, more durable product, Duncan introduced a plastic yo-yo called the "Butterfly." The Butterfly was an instant hit and the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to television advertising and experienced trickmen, the yo-yo boom hit America in 1962.


Over time, what we now know as the YO-YO, has had more than a handful of names, including "disc," "quizzes," "joujou de Normandie," "Tagalog," "I'emigrette," "coblentz," "incroyable,"and "bandelore." It is believed that the term yo-yo is Filipino, and means "to return" or "come, come."


In 1965, the yo yo was deemed a fad and the market quickly died. The Duncan family lost their business and name, after a lengthy legal battle with the Royal Tops Company over the ownership of the word "yo yo." The Royal Tops Company would take over Duncan, keeping the popular name in place.

In 1996, the world rediscovered the joy of the yo-yo, as the United States, Australia, Britain and Japan suddenly begin selling record breaking numbers of the popular toy. One year later, Duncan and Coca-Cola reached a licensing agreement, and began producing a newer, sleeker, more up-to-date version of the classic yo-yo. In 1999, Duncan marketed its first ever transaxle yo-yo by blending the old Butterfly design with new and improved axles, allowing for more advanced trickery.

Today, the yo-yo is more popular as ever, with young and old alike sharing in the passion of playing with one of the world's oldest and most relaxing toys. More than one-half billion yo-yos have been sold in the U.S. since they were first introduced to the general public in 1930.

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