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Where did the Yo-Yo come from?
Where did the Yo-Yo come from?

Some inventions begin as one thing, and wind up as another.

In ancient Greece, the toy was made of wood, metal, and terra cotta with the two halves of the yo-yo decorated with pictures of gods. As a rite of passage into adulthood, Greek children often gave up their toys and placed them on an altar to pay homage to their gods. Around 1800, the yo-yo made its way to Europe from the Orient. In Britain it was called the "bandalore," " quiz," or the "Prince of Wales' toy." The French used the names "incroyable" and "l'emigrette."

In the Philippines around 1500, the Yo-Yo was a weapon. It consisted of a four pound stone attached to a rope about 20 feet long. Tribesmen used it in two ways. When hunting, they stood off to one side, held one end of the rope and threw the rock towards the legs of an animal. The rope became tangled around the animals legs, and with a tug, the hunter brought the animal down. Against enemies, the stones would be dropped on their heads. The tribesmen would quickly recover the stones, ready for a second blow if necessary.

The modern story of the yo-yo starts with a young gentleman from the Philippines named Pedro Flores. In the 1920s, he moved to the USA, and worked as a bellhop at a Santa Monica hotel. Carving and playing with wooden yo-yos was a traditional pastime in the Philippines, but Pedro found that his lunch break yo-yo playing drew a crowd at the hotel. He started a company to make the toys, calling it the Flores Yo-Yo Company. This was the first appearance of the name "yo-yo," which means "come-come" in the native Filipino language of Tagalog.

Donald F. Duncan, an entrepreneur who had already introduced the Eskimo Pie, Good Humor Ice Cream, was co-patent holder of a four-wheel hydraulic automobile brake, and would later popularize the parking meter, first encountered the yo-yo during a business trip to California. A year later, in 1929, he returned and bought the company from Flores, acquiring not only a unique toy, but also the magic name "yo-yo." About this time, Duncan introduced the looped slip-string, which allows the yo-yo to sleep - a necessity for advanced tricks.

Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Duncan promoted yo-yos with innovative programs of demonstrations and contests. All of the classic tricks were developed during this period, as legendary players toured the country teaching kids and carving thousands of yo-yos with pictures of palm trees and birds. During the 1950s, Duncan introduced the first plastic yo-yos and the Butterfly® shaped yo-yo, which is much easier to land on the string for complex tricks. Duncan also began marketing spin tops during this period.

The biggest yo-yo boom in history (until 1995) hit in 1962, following Duncan's innovative use of TV advertising. Financial losses at the end of the boom and a costly lawsuit to protect the yo-yo trademark from competitors forced the Duncan family out of business in the late 60s. Flambeau Products, who made Duncan's plastic models, bought the company and still owns it today.

The genuine Duncan yo-yo is a classic toy that has endured for 70 years. With more than 600 million sold, it is probably the most popular toy in history, and was recently inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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