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Facts About Yo-Yos

By Michael Brent ; Updated April 18, 2017
The yo-yo is one of the world's oldest toys.

The yo-yo is one of the most simple and enduring toys in history. Although the earliest known record of the yo-yo dates back to ancient Greece at about 500 B.C., the yo-yo's origins are unknown. However, the yo-yo itself hasn't changed significantly, and is still made from a string tied to a weighted disc.

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Yo-Yos Throughout History

The yo-yo has been commonly used throughout the world. As of about 1700 or so, historical evidence of yo-yos can be found in China, India and throughout Europe. Yo-yos were particularly popular in France, and were widely used by members of that country's nobility during the period leading up to the French Revolution. The yo-yo has had a variety of different names in different countries. In Britain, it was known as "bandalore" and "quiz;" in France, "incroyable," "l'emigrette" and "coblentz;" in Greece, it was simply called "disc."

Yo-Yos in America

The yo-yo's modern popularity can be traced back to the Philippines. In 1916, an article in "Scientific American" referred to this wildly successful Filipino toy as a yo-yo, a rough translation of the Filipino slang term "come-come," meaning "to return." A Filipino immigrant named Pedro Flores brought the yo-yo to America, and altered the design slightly, tying the yo-yo's string a bit more loosely to allow the disc to remain spinning while the string was fully extended. This allowed creative yo-yo users to eventually develop a variety of different yo-yo tricks. In 1932, Donald F. Duncan bought the company from Flores and trademarked the word yo-yo.

Yo-Yo Trivia

The first yo-yo competition was held in London, England, in 1932. The winner was a 13-year-old named Harvey Lowe. The world's largest display of yo-yos is located in Chico, Calif., including the massive 256-pound "Big-yo." A yo-yo was taken into space aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 1992. The most expensive yo-yo in history is one that was signed by former U.S. president Richard M. Nixon and presented to country singer Roy Acuff in 1974, which fetched a price of $16,029 at the Acuff estate auction. Since the 1930s, more than a half-billion yo-yos have been sold worldwide.

Famous Yo-Yo Users

In 17th century France, yo-yos were seen as stress-relievers, and there are reports that General Napoleon Bonaparte and his troops were playing with yo-yos before the decisive battle of Waterloo. Around the same time period, a painting dating from 1789 depicts the 4-year-old future king of France, Louis XVIII, playing with a yo-yo. Before presenting his yo-yo to Roy Acuff during a television broadcast from Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, former president Richard Nixon performed a few yo-yo tricks. Comedian Tommy Smothers, one half of the Smothers Brothers comedy team, began adding yo-yo tricks to his comedy act in the 1980s, calling himself Yo-Yo Man, displaying a high level of yo-yo dexterity.

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