The history of toys is fascinating. I am often surprised by the origins of playthings and the Yo Yo is no exception. Where did this simple analog toy come from? Who were the main players? And how long has it been part of the human play experience?
The first historical reference dates back to Greece in 500 BC. Part of the coming of age process included offerings to the gods of their childhood playthings. Ancient Egyptian drawings further point to a lengthy history in drawings and urns featuring this simple toy. Jump to the 1500’s and later and one finds the nobility of France and wealthy Europeans enjoying the pastime. Mention is further made of Napoleon and his army relaxing with their Yo Yos.
The Yo Yo first made its way overseas to North America in the early 1900s in the hands of German immigrant Charles Kirchos. And while he obtained a number of patents, the toy in his hands did not make inroads. Then in 1916, an article in Scientific America titled “Filipino Toys” featured and named the Yo Yo, meaning come/come or to return to Philippinos..
Back in the Philippines, expert carvers were busy producing this toy which quickly became a national pastime. This Yo Yo design, the one we are familiar with today arrived in the US in the hands of a man named Pedro Flores in 1928. Once in the country, he quickly began a company in his name in California and began turning out Yo Yos. As in the Philippines, the Yo Yo’s were carved from 1 piece of wood and unlike previous versions of the toy,had a solid axle and the string was looped rather than tied which allowed for tricks to be performed.
Pedro Flores would often draw large crowds while performing with his Yo Yo and doing sales demonstrations. One day the crowd included a man by the name of Donald F. Duncan who was not only intrigued but could see the sales potential at hand. Very quickly he purchased not only the idea of the toy but the Pedro Flores Company as well. Duncan quickly turned the Yo Yo into a craze going on to sell over 45 million of them in 1962 alone.
So here we are. A romp from Greece and Egypt, through the hands of European Nobility, to the craftsmen of the Philippines, to North America in a speedy 2400 years. Welcome to the fun and fascinating world of toys.
Can’t wait to share more with you.
Toad Hall Toys
54 Arthur St