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Let’s Celebrate: National Yo-Yo Day in America

Have you hard what they say about yo-yoing? It has its ups and downs.

In America, National Yo-Yo Day is celebrated on June 6th each year in memory of Donald Duncan Sr. (founder of the Duncan Toys Company) who helped popularize the yo-yo in the US.

It is believed that the yo-yo most likely originated in China, however, the first historical mention was from Greece in the year 500 B.C. These ancient toys were made out of wood, metal, or painted terra cotta disks and called just that, a disc. It was customary, when a child turned of age, to offer toys of their youth to certain gods. Due to the fragile nature of the material, it is presumed that the disks made of terra cotta (clay) were used for this purpose rather than for actual play. A vase painting from this time period shows a Greek youth playing with a yo-yo. Such vases, as well as an actual terra cotta disk can be found in the National Museum of Athens, Greece.

Fast forward and the first yo-yo craze seized Americans in the mid-19th century when several manufacturers patented improvements to the toy.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Scientific American published directions for making yo-yos. But the story of the modern yo-yo began when Chicago businessman Donald F. Duncan Sr., spotted it while on a business trip to San Francisco in 1928. It was being used by Pedro Flores, a man from the Philippines who was selling the toy labeled with the name, “yo-yo,” meaning “come-come” in the native language of the Philippines.

By early 1929, Flores had secured financing, set up his own firm and manufactured more than 100,000 wooden toys and trade marketed the name “yo-yo.” Flores realized that people had to be shown how to use a yo-yo before they would buy it. He hired a team of fellow yo-yo masters to demonstrate the toy’s amazing tricks.

Duncan, a marketer, entrepreneur and manufacturer of wooden novelty items and toys, immediately recognized the yo-yo’s potential as a popular new toy. He quickly raised $5,000 to purchase initial rights to the yo-yo from Flores and founded Donald F. Duncan Inc. By October 1932, he had secured Flores’s remaining assets, including the all-important trademark. Until the trademark expired in 1965 and competing plastic yo-yos began to outsell his old-fashioned, wooden ones, Duncan was the country’s leading yo-yo producer.

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