The History of the Yo-yo: Death and Destruction or Fun and Games
Growing up many of us played with yo-yos. I for one was never very successful manipulating the wound up ball of string. Oh I could move the plastic spindle up and down the string a few times but never would you see me doing those fancy yo-yo tricks like walk the dog or around the world. I was however, fascinated by those who could. But alas, like the hula hoop, it would forever be one of those elusive childhood toys that I would never master.
The History of the Yo-yo
Did you know that the yo-yo is believed to be the second oldest toy in world? It has been a treasured toy in many countries over the world and not just by children. In Greece there were many types of yo-yos made. Some were made of wood or metal while others served a more stately purpose. The terra cotta version depicted pictures of gods on each side of the yo-yo. As Greek children transitioned into adulthood, their toys were placed on the family alter to honor the gods. The yo-yo later moved into Great Britain and France where the fascination with the toy continued. It was known by many names such as the quiz, bandalore, Prince of Wales toy, or l’emigrette. Often it was a toy just for the elite. Many dignitaries were known to have played with the yo-yo. Among these were Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. Thus reinforcing the notion that this toy was not just for kids.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Well, ok, so it wasn’t ever a weapon of mass destruction but it was believed to be used in the Philippines as a weapon. Their version of the yo-yo was a rope up to twenty feet in length tied at one end to a circular object, quite possibly a rock, with sharp studs around the sides. Hunters or warriors would then hurl the object at animals or enemies. The length of the rope allowed them to easily pull the rope back. This offered a means of protection against enemies and a source of securing food for the hunters and their families.
America and its yo-yo love affair
Although the yo-yo had made its way into the United States in the mid 1800’s, it gained recognition and its current name when a young entrepreneur, Pedro Flores, opened a yo-yo factory in California. Flores continued to perfect the yo-yo to make it similar to the modern version that we know today. His factory caught the attention of Donald Duncan. Duncan bought the rights to the yo-yo from Flores in 1929 and moved its mass production to Lucky, Wisconsin. Duncan continued to make improvements upon the toy and his marketing genius sparked a nation-wide interest in the toy. He and newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst partnered together with a barter system. In exchange for free advertising in Hearst’s newspaper, Duncan offered competitions that required an entrance fee of newspaper subscriptions to Hearst’s papers. It was a win-win for both of them. The interest in the yo-yo soared and Duncan’s toy was soon a household name.
Eventually Duncan’s reign as the king of the yo-yo ended in a financial collapse. An increase in advertising and production costs along with a costly lawsuit to keep the yo-yo name forced Duncan to sell the business to Flambeau Plastic Company which still retains ownership of the yo-yo today.
Yo-yos and Yo-yo Gift Sets
Fascinating yo-yo facts
- The largest working wood yo-yo weighs 256 pounds and is named the “Big Yo.” It was featured in the 1982 Guinness Book of Worlds Records.
- Thirteen year old Harvey Lowe was the winner of the first world yo-yo competition. It was held in London, England in 1932.
- The highest price that was ever paid for a yo-yo? $16,029.00.
- The yo-yo was sold as a souvenir at the 1904 World’s Fair.
- Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all showed off their yo-yoing skills while in office.
- The yo-yo was the first toy to soar into space. Hmmm…I wonder how the astronauts were able to bring that spindle back in zero gravity?
The National Yo-yo Museum
Where you can find collections of yo-yos
Chico, California is home to the National Yo-yo Museum. It opened its doors in 1993 and has held national yo-yo competitions every year since then. It holds the largest display of yo-yos and yo-yo memorabilia for public viewing. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10-6 and on Sundays from 12-5. So if you ever find yourself in the Chico area, stop by to marvel at the collection of yo-yos on display.
The Modern Day Yo-yo
Yo-yos today come in many colors and styles. Some light up while others sparkle. There are plastic yo-yos, wooden yo-yos, and even some that are metal. The material and styles may vary but ultimately the purpose is the same, to entertain. Yo-yo enthusiasts from around the world flock to various competition to show off their talents and skill. Tricks range from simply using one yo-yo with a variety of twists, turns, and loops, to combining the skill of manipulating two yo-yos at the same time. Even a yo-yo novice can appreciate the show that an expert can give. So as the yo-yo has evolved from a weapon used in ancient times to an inexpensive toy with an abundant payoff in entertainment; and whether you are a beginner, a wanna be expert or just an enthusiast watching from the sidelines, the yo-yo continues to amaze and delight children of all ages.
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