9 Shocking Facts About The Yo-Yo History You’ve Never Heard Before

Published by Sebastian on

Yoyos are one of the oldest ones in the world and have had a rich history that only a few objects might have had. In this article, I’ll present the most surprising facts about yoyo history. So let’s begin!

1. Yoyos are more than 2000 years old

Ancient display of a yoyo on a Greek vase

It is believed that the yo-yo most likely originated in China. The first historical mention of the yo-yo, however, 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 off 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 religious ceremonies 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.

2. Chinese people had their own version of yoyo

Chinese archaeologists theorize that the Chinese Diabolos (or Chinese yo-yos) originated from the Chinese spinning top. In the Hemudu Excavation, wooden tops were excavated. In order to extend the spinning time of the tops, whips were used to spin the top. This released a sound, and gradually evolved into the term “Kongzhu” ( literally: ‘Air Bamboo”).

Modern approach for chinese yoyo (diabolo)

It was speculated that the Chinese poet Cao Zhi in the Three Kingdoms period had composed the poem “Rhapsody of Diabolos, making it the first record of Diabolo in Chinese history. The authenticity of the poem “Rhapsody of Diabolos ” however required further research and evidence of proof.

By the Tang dynasty, the Chinese Diabolo became widespread as a form of toy. However, the Chinese scholar Wu Chengdu, who lived in Taiwan, argued that records of Chinese Diabolo only appeared during late Ming dynasty Wanli period, with its details well recorded in the book Dijing Jingwulue, referring to Diabolos as “Kong Zhong”.

The term “diabolo” was coined by French engineer Gustave Phillippart and was derived from the Greek dia bolo, roughly meaning “across throw”. “In Greek, the term ‘diabollo’ means to throw across. It comes from a combination of ‘dia’ meaning across or through (as in the diameter of a circle, a line that crosses circle), and ‘bolla’ or originally ‘ballo’ which means to throw…”.

The Greek word “diabolos” (the devil, originally “the liar” or “the one that commits perjury”, from the verb “diaballo”, which means “to throw in”, “to generate confusion”, “to divide”, or “to make someone fall”, later used by Christian writers as “the liar that speaks against God”), from which many modern languages’ words for “devil” .

3. The Phillipinos used yoyos as weapons

Historical records indicate that 16th-century hunters in the Philippines hid up in trees and used a rock tied to a long cord, up to 20 feet in length, to throw at wild animals beneath them.

The weapon was able to be pulled up and thrown back down for multiple attempts at the prey.

This gave rise to the widespread idea that the practice was the true forerunner of the yo-yo, but this is a stretch of the imagination and has no real basis in fact.

It is extremely likely, however, that the yo-yo did travel from China not only to Greece but also to the Philippines, where the yo-yo is known to have been a popular toy for children over a very long period of time.

4. Aristocrats used the toy as a form of entertainment and destressing

Woman playing with the emigrette(French version of yoyo)

In France, a painting dated to 1789 shows the 4 year-old, future King Louis XVII holding his l’emigrette. It was during this time of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, that many of the French aristocracy were forced to flee to Paris, Germany and across other borders.

Louis_XVI_of_France playing with the emigrette in his childhood

Their style of life was threatened by the peasant uprisings, taking their popular yo-yos made of glass and ivory with them.

L’emigrette is a French term meaning to leave the country. Another nickname for the yo-yo at this time was de Coblenz, which was a city to which many French fled. These names reflect an important historical connection between the toy and the French Revolution.

The yo-yos value as a stress reliever is also seen through history. While being a fashionable toy for the French nobility, those less fortunate are said to have played with their emigrettes to reduce the understandable tension of their one-way trip to the guillotine.

The yo-yo arrived in Paris in 1791 as it spread through France and was called the joujou de Normandie. Some believe that this term may reflect possible roots for the modern American name of yo-yo.

5. Laffayette and his army used yoyos before combat

Dating through the 1780s, there are drawings of General Lafayette and others with their troops flinging their yo-yos.

6. Figaro was playing with his emigrette(yoyo) in a scene in 1792

High interest in the toy continued as evidenced by the famous French playwright, Beaumarchais, in his treatment of The Marriage of Figaro in 1792. There is a scene where the nervous Figaro enters and conveys his tension, not by the conventional wringing of his hands, but playing with his emigrette! When asked what the emigrette is good for, Figaro responds” It is a noble toy, which dispels the fatigue of thinking.”

7. Napoleon had played with the yoyo at Waterloo before his last battle

Even on June 18, 1815, at the famous Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon and his army are known to have been seen relaxing with their yo-yos before battle.

8. The term yo-yo was initially a trademark name

In the 1920s, a man named Pedro Flores brought the first Filipino yo-yo(as the natives were becoming experts at making and using the toy )to the U.S. and in 1928, began a yo-yo company by the same name in California.

Donald Duncan -the inventor of modern yoyos

In 1928 or 1929, a businessman named Donald F. Duncan Sr. saw his first Flores yo-yo while he was in San Francisco.

He saw the potential of the toy as he witnessed the crowd that Pedro was able to draw by doing a few tricks. He purchased not only the idea of the yo-yo but the Pedro Flores company itself. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Donald Duncan was an excellent businessman. He developed advertising campaigns and had demonstrators working for him in the U.S., as well as Western Europe.

Duncan Yo-Yo Professionals traveled throughout the United States teaching and demonstrating yo-yo tricks and conducting contests in an effort to promote sales.

Competition grew as other companies began to see the toy’s potential. In 1932, in an effort to protect his interest, Duncan filed for and was assigned a trademark for the word yo-yo.


Not able to use the term yo-yo, competitors were forced to use terms like come-back, return, returning top, whirl-a-gig, and twirler for their versions of the toy.

In 1946, the Duncan Company moved to Luck, Wisconsin, which quickly became known as the Yo-Yo Capital of the World producing 3,600 yo-yos per hour.

They produced the original maple wooden yo-yos using 1,000,000 board feet per year. In 1960, plastic yo-yos that we still see today began to be manufactured. Sales grew and grew.

Duncan Imperial yoyo

Credit: Yo-Yo Store REWIND

By 1962, the Duncan Company alone sold a record 45 million yo-yos in a country with only 40 million kids, and still could not keep up with the demand.

High television advertising expenses and excessive expenses in overtime wages and materials to keep up with the demand hurt profits.

There was also the continual legal expense in trying to hold onto the trademarked word yo-yo. Competitors fought hard to use it in describing their products.

Finally, in 1965, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled that Duncans’ trademark for the word yo-yo was no good. The term yo-yo had become so widespread that it was now a permanent part of the language and it no longer only described the toy. It, in fact, WAS the toy.

Tragically, in November 1965, the Duncan Company could hold on no longer and was forced into bankruptcy. Although pieces of equipment were auctioned off to various buyers, Flambeau Plastics Company purchased the most valuable asset, the Duncan name and the goodwill that came along with it.

It is the Flambeau Plastics Company that manufactures and sells the eleven different models of Duncan yo-yos today. June 6 has been deemed National Yo-Yo Day in honor of Donald Duncan Sr.s birthday and the phenomenal influence he had in the world of yo-yos.

9. The Eskimo people use another kind of skill toy

Eskimo yo-yo or Alaska yo-yo is a traditional two-balled bolas-like fur-covered two padded poi type yo-yo skill toy played and performed by the Eskimo-speaking Alaska Natives, such as InupiatSiberian Yupik, and Yup’ik.

The Eskimo yo-yo is regarded as one of the most simple, yet most complex, cultural artifact/toy in the world. The Eskimo yo-yo is a toy popular with Alaskans and tourists alike that involves rotating two sealskin balls suspended on caribou sinew strings in opposite directions.

This traditional toy is two unequal lengths of twine, joined together, with hand-made leather objects (balls, bells, hearts) at the ends of the twine.

Alaskan yoyo/Eskimo yoyo


The object of the Eskimo yo-yo is to make the balls circle in opposite directions at the same time. Each cord is a different length to allow the balls to pass without striking one another, and the balls are powered by centripetal force (as they rise the performer pumps down, while they fall the performer pumps up).

This basic trick may be referred to as the “Eskimo orbit”, and the orbit may be performed vertically, horizontally, or (horizontally) above one’s head.


Other tricks or patterns include atypical beginnings and wrapping and/or bouncing the strings around a part of one’s body and then continuing with the orbit.

Though a true history of the Eskimo yo-yo remains shrouded in mystery, Eskimos maintain that this game originated as an important and widely used hunting tool made simply with sinew and bones, the bola.

It possibly evolved on St. Lawrence Island from the similarly constructed sinew and rock bolas used in bird hunting. Chris Kiana learned the yo-yo from his grandfather at the age of three and has published a book of one hundred tricks or patterns and has released a DVD compilation of his earlier VHS instructional videos.


The yoyo has been one the oldest toys in the world, being only second to dolls. This skill toy has had a powerful impact on the people’s life, especially the upper class. Now we all can enjoy playing with affordable and highly durable yoyos that we can find in diverse marketplaces. If you want to find out more about the topic you can go here.

If you have any questions or want to know more about a yoyo-related topic, don’t hesitate to head to the comments section!

Sharing is caring!


He is passioned about yoyoing and technology .Enjoys dreaming about the multiple possibilities the internet offers to share the knowledge gathered in 2 years of experience within the skill toys world.Wordpress comes in handy for achieving this dream and for materializing his vision.


Andrew · March 25, 2019 at 11:37 am

I had no idea that the yoyo was such a popular toy for such a long period of history. The second oldest toy in the world is a huge claim to fame. As kids, we played with Yoyos for many years and they were great fun. There is a lot of skill involved in getting the toy to do what you want it to do, and playing with one is good for hand-eye coordination. I’m inspired to pick one up again next time I come across a yoyo to see if I can remember how to make it dance properly for me after all of these years. Cheers

    Sebastian · March 27, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    There is no appropriate age for learning yoyo tricks. You may start yoyoing at 5 or maybe when you want to show something cool and engaging to your children or grandkids. Doesn’t matter. The only thing to do is just to get started and learn from the internet diverse tricks, far better than scrolling down through your Facebook and Instagram feed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *