Yo Yo – one of the oldest toys in the world

Yo-yo is believed to be the second oldest toy in the world, after the doll. It is made of two disks attached together, sandwiching a long string. Its origin is still unclear, though it was certainly used in the ancient world. The word yo-yo comes from the native Philippine language, Tagalog, meaning come-come.

It is most likely that the yo-yo emerged in China in approximately 1000 B.C. and started spreading trough the world as one of the most famous child toys. The first historical records of the yo-yo date back to the year 500 B.C in the ancient Greek civilization.

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Boy playing with a terracotta yo-yo, Attic kylix, c. 440 BC, Antikensammlung Berlin

The Greeks used wood, metal, and terra cotta to make a yo-yo. They added images of their gods on the two halves of the yo-yo. Some scholars believe the Greeks used the yo-yo as a weapon for hunting games. Although, there is no evidence for such claim. These ancient toys are also pictured in the ancient Egyptian temples.

Lady with a yo-yo, Northern India (Rajasthan, Bundi or Kota), c. 1770 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

The next time the yo-yo appears in history, it was on a small box from India made in 1765. This miniature box had an image of a girl in a dress playing with her yo-yo. The following years, the toy traveled from the Orient to Europe and gained popularity amongst the aristocracy. During its travels, it became known by different names.

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In France,  the yo-yo was called l’emigrette, after the aristocrats who popularized the toy. In England, it got the name bandalore and also quiz. The king of France, Louis XVII, was painted at age four with a yo-yo in hand.

A 1791 illustration of a woman playing with an early version of the yo-yo, then known as a “bandalore”

In 1928, the modern story of the yo-yo began. The Philippine immigrant, Pedro Flores worked at the Santa Monica hotel in the USA. As a hobby, he was carving and playing with wooden yo-yos, since that was a traditional pastime in the Philippines. As he noticed that the crowd was gathering around him while playing, Flores got a remarkable idea. He opened a company to make the toys, calling it the Flores Yo-Yo Company.

After the yo-yo was introduced to the United States, it spread to Mexico—a pile of hand made wood Mexican yo-yos is pictured. Photo Credit

In 1929, an entrepreneur named Donald F. Dunkan bought the company from Flores, acquiring not only the specific toy but also the name yo-yo. He established the looped slip-string, which allows the yo-yo to sleep – a technique necessary for advanced tricks. Donald Duncan was an excellent businessman and to promote the new product, he staged yo-yo contests around the country.

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Competition grew and in order to protect his interest, in 1965, Duncan got into a legal battle over the use of the term ‘yo-yo.’ He lost the battle since the court declared the term to be general and it could not be trademarked. The Duncan company produced original maple wooden yo-yos until 1960 when plastic yo-yos, that are still used today, started to be manufactured.

Imperial yo-yo shape. Photo Credit


Modified yo-yo shape. Photo Credit

After the introduction of the plastic yo-yo, Duncan launched the Butterfly yo-yo, which is much easier to land on the string for complex tricks. Throughout the years, the sales grew and the yo-yo became one of the most popular toys ever.

Butterfly Shape yo-yo. Photo Credit


Modern yo-yos. Photo Credit

In 1992, the first World Yo-Yo Championships were held. Today yo-yos are bigger than ever, with contestants from across the world introducing new tricks in international competitions, making the yo-yo a perfect toy for all ages.