Yo! Man! Know where the yo-yo comes from? No, I am not asking you to name the local toy store. Sorry, let me rephrase it. Gimme its history, guys. You thought the yo-yo was created by Donald Duncan, huh? Forget it! The yo-yo is nearly a millennium old!
So, it wasn’t called the yo-yo then. But for want of a better name let’s stick to calling it the yo-yo, okay? Kids all over the world have played with a similar toy. It is believed that the yo-yo originated in China. Ancient Greek kids (500 BC) played with a little spool-like toy and archaeologists have found samples in many other countries including Egypt.
What was it like? Early yo-yos were made of wood, metal or even terracotta and decorated with paints. It consists of two discs connected by a small rod between the discs. A piece of string was tied to this rod and the other end was tied to a finger. The disks were rolled up on this string and when released the disk ran up and down this piece of string!
As simple as that. From China the yo-yo moved to Europe. A 1789 painting of French king Louis XVII shows the four-year-old playing with the toy. Guess what they called it?- ‘incroyable’ and ‘l’emigrette’. By 1791, it spread through to Britain. Here it was called by a French word ‘bandalore’ don’t ask me why! It was called plain and simple ‘disc’ in Greece.
It was in the Philippines that the yo-yo came to be called yo-yo! A yo-yo means ‘comeback’ which is what the toy does. In 1920, a smart Filipino, Pedro Flores, found that if he spent a few millions manufacturing this toy, millions would come back through sales. So he moved to the United States and in 1928 began a yo-yo company in California.
His yo-yos were unique as they were the first yo-yos that did not have the string tied to the axle. Instead, the string was looped around the axle, allowing the yo-yo to spin or ‘sleep’ at the end of the string permitting the yo-yo to do an infinite number of tricks.
In 1929, Flores sold the rights of the yoyo to another smart man, Donald F. Duncan Sr., American businessman and the inventor of the parking meter and the Eskimo Pie ice-cream.
Duncan tentatively called it the ‘O-Boy Yo-yo Top’. The rest is yo-yo history. The yo-yo took America by storm and demand for the toy was greater than supply.
However, Duncan had competition. In 1932, Duncan filed for and was assigned a trademark for the word ‘yo-yo’. This stymied the competition temporarily and Duncan’s competitors were forced to use terms like ‘come-back’, ‘whirl-a-gig’, etc. for their versions of the yo-yo.
In 1946, Duncan moved to Luck, Wisconsin, which was lucky for him for a little while. Luck came to be known as the ‘Yo-Yo capital of the world’. In 1960, plastic yo-yos were introduced. Sales trebled. By 1962, the Duncan company alone sold a record 45 million yo-yos in a country with only 40 million kids.
However, Duncan was fighting a losing battle with the trademarked word ‘yo-yo’. In 1965, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled against Duncan’s trademark for the word ‘yo-yo’. The term yo-yo had become so widespread that it was now a permanent part of the language and it no longer only described the toy.
Duncan was forced to sell his trademark and name to Flambeau Plastics Company. Today, the Flambeau Plastics Company manufactures and sells eleven different models. However, Duncan was duly recognised for his effort. June 6, Duncan’s birthday, was deemed National Yo-Yo day in his honour.
On April 12, 1985, the yo-yo was taken into space by NASA on the Space Shuttle Discovery as part of a project and even tested out.
And, although the yo-yo has gone through ups and downs through the ages, its popularity has never gone down for good.