Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Short History of the Yoyo

When do you think the yoyo was invented?
a)      25 years ago
b)      250 years ago
c)      2,500 years ago
d)      None of these

If you chose answer c), then give yourself a pat on the back. According to urban myth, the yoyo is the second oldest toy (the first is the doll) to have been invented. In ancient Greeks, children played with yoyos made of terracotta, metal, and wood. The two halves of these yoyos were decorated with pictures of Greek gods.
Around 400 years ago, in the Philippines, yoyos were used as weapons. Agreed, they weren’t toys, but altogether more serious objects with studs and razor sharp edges that were attached to 20 foot ropes and thrown at the enemy (presumably, you took a lot of care when the yoyo returned to the thrower). Indeed, the word ‘yoyo’ meant ‘to return to the sender’.

As the 1800s dawned the yoyo transferred from the Orient to Europe. It was initially known as the bandalore, whirly gig, or Princes of Wales toy.  This print by Gillray, showing the Prince reclining on a sofa whilst dallying with a yoyo, offers some explanation as to why the device was linked to him in name.
Also, around the same time, 1789, there is a painting of a young dauphin, then aged 4 years old, the future, King Louis XVII playing with a yoyo.
 The device first gained popularity in France. Napoleon was known to carry and use a yoyo, -possibly the equivalent of a PSP or hand-held gaming device in the late 18th century! Apparently he was seen playing with a yoyo on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.
For a period of around 20 years, the yoyo was the ‘must have’ have fashion accessory for adults, and described as offering ‘stress relief’. It wasn’t until after this that the yoyo became labelled as a childrens’ toy.

It was about the 1860s that the yoyo became popular in America, and patents for the toy were posted in Cincinnati. These patents mention improvements such as ‘weighting’, which improved the fly of the yoyo, and devices that acted as a flywheel for better yoyo returned.  It was from there that the yoyo flourished and the devices we recognize in the modern day were born. 

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