An urban legend that says Filipinos invented the yo-yo has a partial basis in fact. After I spotted the urban legend on a forum one day, I decided to do some research.
According to the Wikipedia page on it, the yo-yo has existed for centuries in one form or another and with one name or another. It didn’t begin to become popular until the 20th century.
There are a lot of Filipinos who believe yo-yos were invented as weapons for hunting. In fact, they believe the word “yoyo” means “come and go” or “come back” in various Filipino languages and dialects.
I found absolutely no historical basis for this belief. In fact, the online Tagalog dictionary entry for “yoyo” refers to the toy. The online Ilocano dictionary doesn’t refer to them at all. Yo-yos were introduced to the Philippines in the 1800s, but toys that looked like them existed more than 2500 years ago.
The company that brought the modern yo-yo into United States national consciousness was the Duncan Toys Company. A Filipino-American by the name of Pedro Flores created (he never claimed he invented it) the modern version of the yo-yo and opened a business around it in 1928. You could say he invented the modern yo-yo.
Donald Duncan, an entrepreneur, bought the business from Flores and opened his own business in 1932. Flores went to work for him, running promotions for the yo-yos. Flores continued to make yo-yos and stayed involved with them for most of his life.
The Duncan Toys Company became a subsidiary of the Flambeau corporation in 1968. Coincidentally, the corporation and subsidiary my wife, Josie, worked for was bought out by the medical markets group of Flambeau sometime before she quit. She worked at the same company for more than 20 years, most of it with the original name of Polycraft Industries, itself a subsidiary of the Mastercraft Mold corporation.
The modern yo-yo has come a long way since the Duncan Toys Company acquired the right to make them. The Duncan Toys Company (and the Flambeau corporation) has made a fortune with the various kinds of yo-yos they’ve made over the years, and they continue to sponsor competitions around the world.
The yo-yos that the Duncan Toys Company now makes include the classic yo-yos from my youth as well as newfangled ones that don’t even need a string. The latter is turning out to be the most popular yo-yo line for yo-yo professionals.
I spent many days of my youth playing with wooden and plastic yo-yos and there’s absolutely no way I can remember how many yo-yos I actually had. I never mastered any fancy tricks with them, but I had a lot of fun with them just the same.
Although I’ve basically debunked the urban legend, you’ll probably find it repeated on various websites for years to come. In fact, I did a cursory Google search today and found it on a Facebook page.
Edited and updated. Originally published in September 2013.