The very first depiction of a yo-yo is to be found on an ancient Greek vase from the 5th century BC, where a boy can be seen playing with the timeless toy.
The yo-yo is the second-oldest known toy after dolls, according to historians. Its origins are placed in China, after a toy known as the diabolo. From China, the yo-yo travelled to ancient Greece and the Philippines. Through time it became popular all over the world.
The yo-yo was made of wood, metal or clay. It is believed that in ancient Greek society the toy was used as an offering to the gods. Some also believe that it was used as a coming-of-age ritual for boys.
The vase depicting the boy playing with the yo-yo, dated from 440 BC, is exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, along with fragments of a small clay disc, parts of the popular toy.
There are images depicting the device in ancient Egypt as well, an indication that, indeed, the yo-yo was an exciting toy for young and old.
It is believed that the name yo-yo has its origins in the Philippines. The word itself means “come-come” or “to return” in Filipino, describing the basic trait of the device. Filipino warriors also used it as a deadly weapon for hunting or battle, with the disc replaced by a larger, sharp stone.
From Asia, the yo-yo travelled to Europe, when at the end of the 18th century it became a favorite pastime for the aristocracy. The toy was called different names, such as “L’emigrette,” “Bandalore,” and “joujou de Normandie.” Some would argue that the French word for a toy―joujou―was adopted into other western cultures as the name for the device.
From France, the yo-yo travelled to England and almost a century later to the New World. In 1866, two men from Ohio offered their “improved bandalore” which was introduced in a similar manner as in Europe.
In 1928, a Filipino migrant opened the first yo-yo manufacturing shop in California, and the rest is toy history.