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The History of the Yo-yo: Death and Destruction or Fun and Games

Updated on October 18, 2011

Child's Play

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.

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

The National Yo-yo Museum:
320 Broadway St, Chico, CA 95928, USA

get directions

Yo-yo Champions

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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    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub sorry that I missed reading it last week. I still like to play with the yo-yo. Not that I am as good as Will though.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Great hub Cara, brilliant combination of history and facts, nicely compiled. enjoyed reading this. My yo-yo skills are poor maybe should take lessons from WillStarr so I can 'walk the dog' and 'rock the baby'..

    • evvy_09 profile image


      8 years ago from Athens, AL

      I went through my own yo-yo obsession, and hit myself in the face with it on a daily basis. Still had fun lol.

    • Golfgal profile image


      8 years ago from McKinney, Texas

      Though I tried and tried, my yo yo always got all knotted up. I got bored with it and sat it on the shelf. It may still be there.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Clearly WillStarr is the "star" of this hub lol! It seems that I am not the only one who couldn't work a yo-yo. Thanks everyone for all of the positive feedback. It was fun to do my first hubmob challenge!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Nice hub! I never could get the hang of working a yo-you - can't even get it to come back up the string. Will Star's mention of 'spank the baby' and 'around the world' brought mumbley peg to mind - now that was a game I loved to play!

      Keep up the writing!

    • gypsumgirl profile image


      8 years ago from Vail Valley, Colorado

      Great hub! I didn't know there was a National Museum dedicated to the yo-yo. Awesome! When I was little, I played with the yo-yo quite a bit. The ones that lit up were always the coolest. Never quite got past the easiest tricks...and I'm not that big of a risk-taker when it comes to swinging a hard object that could bonk me on the head.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a great hub and I'm impressed with Will Star as well. I remember trying to do some of those tricks I don't remember them being generally successful in my case but this hub sure brought back some old memories.

    • attemptedhumour profile image


      8 years ago from Australia

      Is there nothing that that will star can't do? I was useless with the yoyo too and envious of all those snotty kids, will excluded of course, who could do all those amazingly complex things, leaving me to roll tiny balls out of plasticine. It's odd to think that a complex thing like a yoyo would be so old. Ah the frustrating memories of being hit in the eye with that uncontrollable object. Nice hub though.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow, I'm impressed with Will Starr's talents with the yo-yo. Do you remember grampa playing with the yo-yo? He could do these tricks you mentioned. Great hub, Cara. I learned a lot through the history. And, I enjoyed that you added the video. I was hoping you would. Congrats on moving into the hubmob challenge. Very nicely done.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Michigan

      You're welcome WillStarr, glad I could be of service :) Glad you stopped by to read, thanks for the feedback.

    • WillStarr profile image


      8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      When I was a boy, all of us were equipped with a yo-yo. I could walk the dog, rock the baby, spank the baby, and go round the world.

      Thanks for the memory jogger!

      Up and useful.


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