Today is National Yo-Yo Day, created by Daniel Volk in 1990 to celebrate the birthday of Donald F. Duncan (1892-1971), whose company popularized the toy.
A simple yo-yo resembles a small spool with a string knotted around a center groove or axle. Holding the free end of the string, one uses spin, gravity and momentum to cause the yo-yo to unwind and rewind. While it travels back and forth easily, the knot prevents it from doing sophisticated tricks.
The first known painting of a yo-yo is on a Greek vase from approximately 440 BC. Illustrations from 18th-century Northern India and France show adults playing with yo-yos.
In 1928, Pedro Flores moved from the Philippines to Santa Barbara, CA, and opened the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company. His design had a doubly-long string, twisted to make a loop that would slip around the axle, enabling a range of motions and configurations. By November 1929, Flores had three factories which produced a total of 300,000 units per day.
Soon afterward, Donald F. Duncan purchased Flores’ company and trademarked the name “Yo-Yo.” In 1965, he sued Royal Tops Manufacturing Company for using the name and a federal court of appeals rescinded his trademark, ruling that “Yo-Yo” had become a common part of speech. As a result of the suit and associated legal bills, Duncan sold the company three years later. He died in a car accident in 1971.
Side note: Companies are required to keep their brand names from becoming genericized. Every mention of Kleenex includes “tissues.” Nintendo pushed the term “games console” to protect its name. Band-Aid changed its jingle from “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me” to “I am stuck on Band-Aid Brand, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” Google sends cease-and-desist letters to anyone who uses the term “googling.” What could Duncan have done to prevent people from saying they were “yo-yoing”?
Daniel Volk, a Yo-Yo Master who appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s, created National Yo-Yo Day in 1990 as a tribute to Donald F. Duncan. The Duncan Yo-Yo was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY, in 1999.
To see a world-class performance, watch this 2013 TED Talk by Japanese yo-yo artist BLACK, a two-time world champion who quit school to become a professional performer and landed a one-day part in Cirque du Soleil. Did anyone in the exceedingly earnest, reverent audience so typical of TED Talks think, “While I’m amazed by his talent and filled with joy at his story of hope, when I return to my life of relative comfort and privilege, how will he make a living with a yo-yo”? Or simply, “What’s for lunch?”