Synopsis of Toy

Many toys have stood the test of time, but few as impressively as the yo-yo. This combination of carved wood or molded plastic and string has offered quick-spinning fun for children and adults all over the world since the days of ancient Greece. Though their popularity has hit peaks and valleys over the years, yo-yos always seem to come spinning back, in the process becoming one of the most beloved toys of all time.

Although historians believe the yo-yo originated in China, the oldest surviving yo-yos were discovered in Greece and date back to 500 B.C. They were terra cotta discs decorated with paintings of mythological figures, and archeologists theorize that Ancient Greek kids gave these yo-yos as offerings at the appropriate temple as part of a coming-of-age ceremony. A Greek vase exists from this period that is painted with the image of a boy playing yo-yo. And if you're really into your yo-yo history, both the vase and samples of the Greek terra cotta yo-yos can be found at the National Museum in Athens, Greece.

The yo-yo eventually traveled from Greece and China to the Philippines, where it became a popular children’s toy during the 16th century. Hunters during this era also created a hunting tool modeled after the yo-yo that consisted of a rock tied to a length of string. This device allowed hunters to strike at prey several times from the protection of a tree branch. The yo-yo soon moved on from the Philippines to India, where it appeared on a hand-painted box dating back to 1765. The painting depicted a young girl playing with a yo-yo.

As the 1700’s came to a close, the yo-yo moved on to Europe and found lasting popularity. In France, the yo-yo was known as “l’emigrette,” a phrase meaning “leave the country.” This was a reference to how the members of the French nobility (who loved the toy) were forced to flee during the French Revolution. A painting from 1789 depicts 4 year-old Louis XVII playing with a yo-yo. The toys soon became popular with people of all ages in France, and even Napoleon enjoyed the occasional yo-yo (though he probably used a shorter string).

The toy soon spread to England, where it was known as the quiz, the incroyable (a term for a French Dandy), and the bandalore. It became a favorite of the Prince of Wales, and as a result, it became the toy for a cultured person to own throughout the British Isles. In 1866, the yo-yo made its first recorded appearance on American shores when two men received a patent for an “improved bandalore.” Although others registered patents related to the yo-yo, the toy didn't make a serious impact in the U.S. for a few more decades. At the same time, the yo-yo was being perfected in the Philippines, where it was a national pastime.

In 1928, Fillipino-American Pedro Flores started the first American yo-yo company in California. His toys popularized the yo-yo name, which came from the Filipino word for “spring.” The hand-carved pieces of wood boasted a novel feature: The string was looped around the axle instead of being tied to it. This feature allowed yo-yoers to make their yo-yos spin in place or “sleep,” a move that remains crucial to yo-yo tricks today. Armed with these looped-string beauties, yo-yo enthusiasts devised an array of complex tricks that could be done with the yo-yo to increase their fun quotient. Pretty soon, kids and adults everywhere were trying to “walk the dog,” “rock the baby” or make their yo-yos go “around the world”.

Flores’ yo-yos became a craze in California and came to the attention of local businessman, Donald Duncan. He liked what he saw and envisioned the potential for a great business opportunity. He bought out the Flores Company and hired Pedro Flores to work with him in promotions. Duncan also obtained a trademark for the word yo-yo. Thus, competitors had to give their yo-yo knockoffs strange names like the “the twirler,” “the comeback” and “the whirl-a-gig.” Most importantly, Duncan secured free advertising in the many newspapers of tycoon William Randolph Hearst in exchange for hosting yo-yo competitions that required participants to sell subscriptions to Hearst newspapers as their entry fee.

In 1946, Duncan moved his company to Luck, Wisconsin. He chose this area because it was rich in the hard maple needed to make Duncan yo-yos. Luck soon became known as “The Yo-Yo Capital Of The World” as the company began pumping out yo-yos at the rate of 3,600 an hour. In fact, they did so well that by 1962, they had sold 45 million yo-yos in a country with only 40 million kids. Profits began to decline, and this unfortunate trend coincided with the rising legal costs of keeping the yo-yo name trademarked.

The name “yo-yo” became free game for toy companies in 1965 when the Federal Court of Appeals ruled that Duncan’s trademark was null and void. Later that year, Duncan went bankrupt and was bought by the Flambeau Plastics Company. This company still puts out a line of 12 Duncan yo-yos today. Meanwhile, Duncan’s competitors began putting out their own Duncan-styled yo-yos. For instance, Fred Strombeck bought Duncan's yo-yo turning lathes in 1967 and used them to market the "Medalist" yo-yo. They were made until 1972 and were the last Duncan-shaped wooden yo-yos for 24 years.

During the 1970’s, competing yo-yo companies began introducing new technologies to jazz up their yo-yos. Yo-yos glowed in the dark, they whistled, they came in the hourglass-looking "Butterfly" shape, and many yo-yo companies began adding weight to the rims of their yo-yos to increase their spin. In 1978, the "No Jive 3-in-1" yo-yo was patented by Tom Kuhn. It had a replaceable axle and was the first yo-yo that could be taken apart by hand. In 1980, Michael Caffrey patented "The yo-yo with a Brain." It had a centrifugal spring-loaded clutch mechanism that made the yo-yo return automatically to the user’s hand when its rotation slowed to a pre-determined rate. Most recently, transaxle yo-yos were introduced during the 1990’s, using ball bearings to increase spin time dramatically.

In 1985, yo-yos even conquered outer space. On April 12th of that year, a yo-yo was taken on the Space Shuttle Discovery to see how it would perform in zero gravity. It could still be spun, but would not “sleep” at the end of the string since it did not have the pull of gravity to pull it down. Yo-yos got an additional shot of popularity during the 1980’s from the Smothers Brothers when they introduced a bit on their popular television show called “The Yo-Yo Man.” Tom Smothers would do amazing yo-yo tricks for the audience while Dick explained how his brother was in a “State of Yo.” It became a staple of their act as it helped keep yo-yo popularity at a high level.

Today, yo-yo popularity remains as strong as ever, thanks in part to championships and exhibitions that have led people to take the skill involved in using a yo-yo seriously. In 1990, the first international yo-yo convention was held in conjunction with annual International Juggler's Association convention in Los Angeles. This eventually developed into the modern World's Championships. Around that time, the "Return of the Yo-Yo" exhibition began touring malls around the U.S. It included the Duncan Family Collection and several "opening day" demonstrations that gave a new generation a taste of top-level yo-yo performance. The exhibit collection later formed the core of the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, California.

1993 saw the first modern National Yo-Yo Contest held in Chico, California, and the American Yo-Yo Association was founded. A few years later, Duncan returned to TV advertising with the "Video Boy," claiming yo-yos a more exciting alternative to video games. They also commissioned Dr. James Watson of Ball State University to develop the "Teaching Science with the Yo-Yo®" lesson program. The five-day science planner gave educators an interactive, hands-on program to teach science theories to their students through classroom-based yo-yo lessons.

Modern yo-yo fanatics were ecstatic in 1996 when Duncan reintroduced the wooden Duncan Super Tournament yo-yo. A faithful reproduction of the 1955 model, the re-issue came in five classic colors packaged with the original "1955 Yo-Yo Trick Book®." A new wave of yo-yo madness swept the world, with Australia, Britain and Japan becoming serious yo-yo hotspots.

Most recently, Duncan has made its first transaxle yo-yo, the "Trans-aXtion®." The pop dada-ists in Devo were hired to pitch the new yo-yo using a re-recorded (and doctored) version of "Whip It." Devo vocalist Jerry Casale also directed the spot. The new toy became a hit with yo-yo fanatics, thrusting the ancient toy into a new era of its incredibly long history.

Release History of Toy

1928 - first American yo-yo company is formed by Pedro Flores
1946 - Donald Duncan moves his yo-yo company to Luck, Wisconsin
1978 - the "No Jive 3-in-1" yo-yo is patented
1980 - the "yo-yo with a Brain" is patented

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