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History of the yo-yo

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Although the yo-yo is an undeniably ancient toy there is no proof that it is the second oldest toy as claimed. However, very few records remain about its origins due to the fact people in the past have not considered yo-yos worth writing about.

Origins

The origin of the yo-yo is still under argument but documentaries that have been made show that it came from Greece. It is rumored that it was used as a weapon for hunting game or other land animals. Although Physics may prove the use of the yoyo as a hunting tool to be ineffective, the concept of being able to retry a missed throw of an object was still an amazing feat.  But people still have, to this day, believed it to be a weapon. The popularity of yoyos was expanded by the Duncan yoyo demonstrators in the 1930s and the yoyo today is now considered a toy. It was also shown on Greek pots that the yoyo was used as a toy and made out of terra cotta.

1000 BC - Chinese origins

Some historians believe the yo-yo originated in China in approximately 1000 BC. Although there are no formal records of the yo-yo, there is proof that the diabolo, a toy that is part-yoyo, part-top was developed in China which has much in common.

Some records claim that the word 'yo-yo' came from the word come-come in the ancient version of Tagalog, a Filipino language. Some linguistic experts say that the name 'yo-yo' is Oriental in origin, supporting the theory that China was the birthplace of the yo-yo.

500 BC - Greek yo-yos

The first historical document featuring a yo-yo-like device was in Greece dated to 500 BC, and so some historians argue that the Greeks invented the yo-yo. These feature Greek discs which are arguably similar to a yo-yo which can be seen in Greek museums, such as the museum of Athens. Some historians argue that these were used for spools for thread or hanging drapes due to the fact the discs were ceramic which could break during play. There is, however, a painting found on a Greek vase with what appears to be a boy playing with a yo-yo, that may support the use of these discs as play[1].

1700s AD - Europe

Yo-yos became very popular in Europe in the late 18th century, having probably arrived there via India. It enjoyed popularity with the French nobility, with many famous people having used them. It is worth noting that the yo-yoers in this time period are recorded as being adults, who referred the yo-yo as a 'Bandalore' or a 'Quiz'.

In 1791, the Swedish Enlightenment writer Johan Henric Kellgren mentions the yo-yo as 'joujou de Normandie' in the poem "Dumboms leverne". Kellgren places its invention roughly around the middle of the century. The French word 'joujou', possibly derived from 'jouer', to play, thus appears in Europe roughly 170 years before it was supposedly imported from the Philippines.

1860s AD - United States

A patent in 1866 by James L. Haven and Charles Hettrick showed a new way of making a yo-yo using a central rivet to hold the two halves together, enabling the first metal yo-yos to be created. This patent demonstrates that there were yo-yos in the USA before this but referred to as 'Bandelores'. In 1867 Charles Kirchhof (a German immigrant living in the USA) patented and manufactured a yo-yo-like toy that he referred to as a "return-wheel", although he did not manage to sell a great number. Some other patents include the edible bandelores and is completely edible except the string.

1910s AD - United States

In 1916 an article appears in the Scientific American Supplement with the title of "Filipino toys" which showed how to make a yo-yo. This was the first documented reference in the USA that used the term yo-yo.

1920s AD - United States - Pedro Flores

In 1928 Pedro Flores immigrated from the Philippines to the USA and started selling yo-yos under the name "yo-yos", the name used in the Philippines. He called his business the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company which operated in Santa Barbara. Pedro trademarked the term 'yo-yo' and used the refined Philippine design of the yo-yo by looping the string around the axle instead of tying it as it was done previously[2]. In doing this he introduced America to the fundamental yo-yo trick, the sleeper. Pedro Flores printed "patent applied" and "patent pending" on many of his yo-yos, despite him not possessing any patent on his products, presumably to discourage other toy manufacturers from producing yo-yos.

Due to the number of new possibilities for tricks Pedro also set up competitions to demonstrate the new tricks that could be done. However, his competitions were quite different from modern yo-yo competitions, as the competitions were more about endurance than trick complexity. The winner was the yo-yoer who could keep the yo-yo moving up and down without missing. This resulted in some competitions lasting a very long time with two experienced yo-yoers not giving up, resulting in the winner being selected by drawing straws. These competitions also featured contests of who could throw their yo-yo the furthest with it returning fully and who could do the greatest number of perfect spins during five minutes.

1930s AD - United States - Duncan

In about 1930 Donald F. Duncan bought out Flores and so obtained the rights to the trademark "yo-yo". The precise date is uncertain but the "Yo-Yo" trademark was transferred in 1932. Other yo-yo companies during this period had to use terms such as 'return tops', 'whirl-a-gigs' or 'twirlers'. Duncan quickly acquired the largest share of the yo-yo market, with 85% of all yo-yos sold in this period being produced by Duncan.

1960s - United States - Yo-yo term loses trademark

In 1965 Duncan got into a legal battle over the use of the term 'yo-yo' with Royal, resulting in the court ruling that the term had become generic and so could be not trademarked. As a result of the cost of fighting the lawsuit as well as an expensive investment in the means to produce plastic yo-yos, Duncan became bankrupt and its assets were sold, including its products and goodwill to Flambeau Plastics Company which now produces Duncan yo-yos[3]. The Duncan equipment would go to Strombecker Toys which produced yo-yos under the Medalist name for a number of years.

1980s - Technological innovations

In 1980 Mike Caffrey applied for a patent on an auto-return mechanism for a yo-yo that consisting of several different embodiments for an internal clutch. This US patent (#4,332,102) was issued to Caffrey on June 1, 1982.  The first commercially available yo-yo based on this mechanism was the Yomega Brain in 1984[4].

There exists an interesting story pertaining to the development of the first auto-returning prototype. Caffrey hired engineer, Bill Lakin, to develop a working prototype around his pending patent.  That first prototype's design was seriously flawed, as the central spool was so large that virtually no wound-up string engaged the parallel, internal yo-yo halves.  When this prototype was thrown, the clutch would open just inches from the player's hand, then would proceed to fall without imparting any additional rotational force upon the yo-yo. Caffrey devised an ingenious "work around" to test the viability of the clutch; he made an 11' string that DID fill the spool and engage the internal parallel faces.  Caffrey threw this modifiied yo-yo from the roof of his father's house in Tucson, AZ.  Not only did this long string get the yo-yo prototype rotating, the clutch closed at the proper time, returning the yo-yo more than 5' up the string.  Lakin designed a second prototype with the right-sized central spool.  Yomega's original Brain Yo-Yo was developed around that second prototype.

In 1984 the first ball bearing yo-yo was produced by Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF) in an SKF promotion, marking the beginning of a huge change to yo-yo design. However, the effect of this innovation would not be appreciated for about 10 years.

On the 12th of April 1985 a yellow plastic Duncan Imperial became the first yo-yo in space in a series of experiments called "Toys in Space" where various toys were tested to see how weightlessness affects them.

1990s - Styles and competitions

In 1992 the first yo-yo world championships were held, and the championship included true freestyle. After this freestyles became a major part of yo-yo competitions. In 1996 the first USA yo-yo event with a freestyle was held at the US Nationals

A number of new yo-yoing styles were created in the 1990s. The most prominent of these are freehand and offstring.

References

  1. Yo-yos .net- Lucky’s Yo-yo History
  2. Spintastics Website Yo-yo history Compiled by Valerie Oliver
  3. About inventors Yo-yo inventors
  4. United States Patent and Trademark Office Patent 4,332,102

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