February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Donald Duncan

The yo-yo has been known for at least 2,500 years: an Ancient Greek bowl dating to 450 B.C. depicts a boy playing with a disk on the end of a string. Reaching Europe the toy was a popular entertainment in the imperial courts of Europe and it is said that Napoleon’s soldiers passed the time between battles practicing with yo-yos. But the American yo-yo was born not in tony parlors of Europe but the jungles of the Philippines.

Although it is most likely the yo-yo reached the Philippines by way of China, some legends maintain that Filipino hunters developed the yo-yo as a hunting weapon, throwing a stone and retrieving it with an attached throng. However, it arrived in the Philippines by the 19th century the yo-yo was ingrained in the lives of Filipino children - with a twist. Literally. Instead of a single-string European design which returned immediately the Philippine yo-yo’s string was looped around the axle with the two branches of the loop twisted tightly together. Thus the Philippine yo-yo hesitated a few seconds before returning, thus enabling skilled handlers to develop a repetoire of tricks.

It was this yo-yo, the name derives from the Philippine Tagalog language to describe the action and sound of the toy, that Donald F. Duncan saw in the late 1920s. As Filipinos made their way to the United States in the early 20th century they toy began appearing in Philippine neighborhoods. Pedro Flores, a Filipino hotel worker registered his “Flores Yo-Yo” with the U.S. Patent Office about the time Duncan learned of the toy.

Envisioning a big-selling toy Duncan manufactured his first yo-yo in 1929 but his patent application was turned down as an infringement on the Flores Yo-Yo. Undeterred, Duncan bought Flores’ rights and marketed the first Genuine Duncan Yo-Yo in 1932. Duncan single-handedly made the yo-yo a national craze. He hired groups of Filipino men to demonstrate the yo-yo and sent them on tours of the United States to promote the Duncan Yo-Yo. The arrival of a Duncan troupe and their routines of gravity-defying tricks became an annual rite of spring in America.

When the novelty of the yo-yo faded by World War II Duncan was able to re-vitalize the toy by taking his demonstrations to television. The maple and ash yo-yos gave way to the all-time best-selling plastic Duncan Imperial in the late 1950s and the yo-yo boom was bigger than ever. But Duncan’s greatest ploy was in securing the rights to the term “yo-yo” itself. It was not until 1965 that the courts ruled that the toy was a yo-yo, not a Duncan yo-yo. But by that time Duncan was selling about nine of every ten yo-yos in America, a figure it still approaches today.

No comments: