Throwing ourselves into Yo-Yo Heritage Month

April Fool's! It is not Yo-yo Heritage Month, so we unfortunately will not be sharing yo-yo facts all month. But we do have a few for you today!

Yellow yo-yo mounted on a display card featuring an image of the mascot “Mr. Yo-Yo” and the slogan “If it isn't Duncan it isn't Yo-Yo.”

The origins of toys like yo-yos are said to stretch way back to ancient Greece or China, but it is believed that the yo-yo we know today comes from the Philippines, where "yo-yo" means "come come" in one of the local languages. The popularity of the toy in America began growing in the 1920s, when a Filipino bellhop at a Southern California hotel, Pedro Flores, attracted attention with his yo-yo tricks on his breaks. Seeing an opportunity, Flores began manufacturing the toys, and was soon bought out by entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan, who began a wildly popular marketing campaign for yo-yos.

Man with dark hair in a suit, smiling

Our yo-yo collections span the decades. Here are a few of my favorites:

Red white and blue metal yo-yo with flower design at the center

This "Musical Ka-Yo" was made in the early 1930s by the Caro Manufacturing Company. "Musical" comes from the holes in the side that cause the steel yo-yo to whistle as it travels up and down. "Ka-Yo" comes from the Cayo Company avoiding the term "yo-yo," which had been trademarked by the Duncan toy company.


Roy Rodgers in cowboy gear next to horse

Yo-yos and pop culture often go hand-in-hand. This Round Up King yo-yo from the 1950s features cowboy actor Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger. The yo-yo was made by Nebraska's All Western Plastics. The yo-yo's packaging (not pictured) reads: "It's smooth and fast, it's inside walls are slick as glass, no rough wood to catch the string, does all the tricks…it's Roundup King."


Hamburger-shaped yo-yo with sesame seed bun

For those with memories of the Happy Meal toy and/or appreciation for anything food shaped: The McDonald's Hamburger Yo-Yo of the 1980s.


Wooden yo-yo with dark brown writing

Yo-yos aren't all fun and games. This yo-yo, manufactured by the Hummingbird Toy Company in about 1990-1991, commemorates Operation Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia. For every one bought in the U.S., one was sent to a serviceman overseas.


Blue yo-yo with black swirls

Competitors and record-setters take their yo-yos seriously. Trick yo-yos are specially made to perform all the maneuvers you might have tried to master as a kid: "walk the dog," "rock the cradle," "loop the loop." This yo-yo was made by Mega SpinFaktor in 2001, to help yo-yo master Rick Wyatt set a world "sleep" record. "Sleep" is when a yo-yo spins at the end of the line. Wyatt successfully set a new record with this yo-yo in 2001, with 13 minutes and 5 seconds of sleep.


Wooden yo-yo with rainbow stripes and a golden Smithsonian logo

Here's a yo-yo that we here at the museum get excited about! This colorful wooden specimen was made by What's Next Manufacturing Inc in 1995 as part of the BC yo-yo line. It bears a golden Smithsonian Institution sunburst logo.

Take a minute to explore our yo-yo collections online. Which one is your favorite?

Julia Falkowski is an intern in the New Media Department of the National Museum of American History. She has also blogged about hearing historic voices on fragile recordings.