Happy Yo-Yo Day! Yes, Greeks Invented This Too



(L) Boy pictured playing with a terracotta yo-yo, Attic kylix, ca. 440 BC (R) modern Yo-Yo’s

Today, June 6, is National Yo-Yo Day and you deserve to know that, like so very many things, the once popular toy has Greek roots — in fact, it was invented by the Ancient Greeks.

The yo-yo is considered, after dolls, the second-oldest toy in history. The first yo-yos were made of wood or terra cotta approximately 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece and some of them are on display now at the Greek Archaeological Museum in Athens.

These ancient yo-yos were often decorated with pictures of Greek gods. As children began to enter adulthood in antiquity, it became a tradition for them to place their yo-yos on the family altar to pay homage as a rite of passage.

The first yo-yo was patented in modern times in the year 1866 by James L. Haven and Charles Hettrich. The person who brought it to the USA was a young gentleman from the Philippines, named Pedro Flores.

In the 1920s, he moved to the USA and worked as a bellhop at a hotel in Santa Monica, California. Carving and playing with wooden yo-yos was a traditional pastime in the Philippines, and Pedro found that his skillful yo-yo playing on his lunch break drew a crowd interested in the toy. He soon started up a company to make the toys, calling it the Flores Yo-Yo Company.

However, it was not until Donald F. Duncan became involved that the toy became popular worldwide. Duncan, an entrepreneur, first encountered the yo-yo during a business trip to California.

One year later, in 1929, he returned and bought the company from Flores, acquiring not only a unique toy, but also the magic name of “Yo-yo.” About this time, Duncan introduced the looped slip-string, which allows the yo-yo to “sleep” — a necessity for advanced tricks.

The biggest yo-yo boom in history hit in 1962, following its innovative use in television advertising. Financial losses at the end of the boom and a costly lawsuit to protect the yo-yo trademark from competitors finally forced the Duncan family out of business in the late 60s.

National Yo-Yo Day is celebrated annually across the world on the birthday of Donald F. Duncan, who brought the ancient pastime into our world today.

The yo-yo continues to fascinate people of all ages, and as you can see from the illustration of the beautiful vase, it has such ancient roots.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to dust off your yo-yo, or pick one up for your kids and bring back the spin. If you already have one, it will be good to play and bring back the spin… after all, this is the Day of the Yo-Yo!


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