Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Meet Big Yo

Pedro Flores, a native of the Philippines, applied and on June 9, 1928, received a certificate for conducting business as the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, CA. He was 29.

On June 23, 1928, he made one dozen yo-yos by hand and began selling them to neighborhood children. By November of 1929, three factories were making 300,000 yo-yos daily and employing 600 workers. The yo-yo was promoted as the Flores Yo-yo, "The Wonder Toy" (see booklet, left).

Although Flores was frequently described as the inventor of the yo-yo, he never personally claimed to have invented the yo-yo, and he always mentioned its past history as a centuries-old Philippine game.

There was no legal patent held for the standard Flores yo-yo. He did apply for and receive a trademark for the Flores Yo-yo (see box, right), and this was registered on July 22, 1930. It was shortly after this that Flores sold his interest in the yo-yo factories which were later acquired by the Donald Duncan Yo-Yo Company.

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" (see boxes, left) for their versions of the toy.

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. There was also the continual legal expense in trying to hold on to 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 Duncan's 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 of 1965, the Duncan Company could hold on no longer and was forced into bankruptcy. The 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

This brief history of the yo-yo is included in the displays at the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, CA. Located in the back of a retail store (Bird In Hand) selling toys and games, the Museum houses hundreds of collectible yo-yos (note the green Enron logo yo-yo in the bottom row right), records of champions of the annual competition, and an array of pins, patches, and tee shirts.

Much of the history and the lore of the yo-yo can be obtained from Bob Malowney, the museum's curator and salesman, teacher, and storyteller to people interested in buying, using, or appreciating the yo-yo.

Some of the older yo-yos that caught my eye are shown in the next photos. I thought the Hy-Lo yo-yo shown here looked like an old movie reel. It is believed to have been made in the late 1920s.

One of the most unusual old yo-yos is the one with the "window," showing a spinning color wheel that spins independently from the yo-yo's spinning.

On the right (in the photo above) is the Duncan Whistling Yo-Yo.

I don't know anything about these two, I just thought the one on the right was colorful and different.

Bob mentioned that the most expensive yo-yo available on the market today is the Magnesium (Mg) one shown here (about $400).

In 1978, Tom Kuhn patented the "No Jive 3-in-1" yo-yo, the first take-apart-by-hand yo-yo and the first having a replaceable axle.

Dr. Kuhn is a dentist in San Francisco who has designed a great number of yo-yos, including Big Yo (right), the world's largest wooden yo-yo, standing 50 inches high and weighing in at 256 pounds. Until recently, it was occasionally taken out of the museum, connected to a crane, and dropped by a rope for a few spins.

Then I read: "By the 1990's, transaxle yo-yos were available with ball-bearing axles, increasing spin times once again. . . . or how's about a 'Yomega PowerBrain Wing' with its piston-like 4-way synchronized clutch system that engages simultaneously."

After reading that information, I bought a paddle with a rubber ball attached to it by an elastic band.


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