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7 cool things you didn’t know about yo-yos


Photo by S. J. Pyrotechnic licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 

If you haven't had the chance to pick up a yo-yo in a while, or if you've never had the chance to play with one, then maybe this post will inspire you to get yourself the popular toy that's been around since Ancient Greece. And it even has its own special day — get ready to "walk the dog" on Yo-Yo Day this June 6th and learn some fun new facts!

The yo-yo is a really ancient toy

ancient greek vase with image of person playing yo-yo

There's a Greek vase painting from around 500 BC that shows a boy playing with a yo-yo —  that's over 1,500 years old! They made their yo-yos from wood, metal and terracotta (a type of pottery made from baked clay).

The yo-yo was really popular in old Europe

During the 18th century, the yo-yo became very popular all over Europe but they had their own names for it. In Britain they called it a bandalore or a quiz (yep, just like a test), and in France it was known as an incroyable or a coblentz. Everyone liked playing with yo-yos and there are reports of young King Louis XVII playing with one, Napoleon and his army had yo-yos at their famous Battle of Waterloo, and even the Prince of Wales played with them. 

You can thank Pedro Flores for your yo-yo

an original box of Flores yo-yos from the National Yo-Yo Museum

An original box of Flores yo-yos from the National Yo-Yo Museum - they were just 15 cents! (Wikimedia/Public Domain)

A Filipino American man named Pedro Flores opened up a toy factory in California in the 1920s and became the first person to make modern yo-yos. They became so popular that businessman Donald Duncan bought Pedro's company and wound up making 3,600 yo-yos a year in the town of Luck, Wisconsin. It's now known as the "Yo-Yo Capital of the World!"

Yo-yos were wood until the ’60s

hand holding a traditional wooden yo-yo

Traditional wooden yo-yo. (Photo by Becky Lai licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yo-yos weren't made out of plastic until the 1960s. They were originally made out of wood, which meant they had an uneven spin because of the variations in wood density! In the 1990s, they began to make them out of metal.

You can become a yo-yo world champion

A player competes during the World Yo-Yo Contest in Prague

A player competes during the World Yo-Yo Contest in Prague in 2014. (AP Photo/Peter David Jozek)

There's a World Yo-Yo Contest held every year in different locations around the world. Yo-yo players from 33 countries that are part of the International Yo-Yo Federation get a chance to compete for the title of World Yo-Yo Champion. But Japan has dominated the contest by winning more than 75 world titles, 13 of those won by champion Shinji Saito. That's a lot of trophies!

The biggest wooden yo-yo

the world's biggest wooden yo-yo at the museum in California.

The world's biggest wooden yo-yo. (Wikimedia/Public Domain)

The "World’s Biggest Wooden Yo-Yo" can be found at a yo-yo museum out in Chico, California. It's so big that it made it into the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records weighing a whopping 116 kilograms. And apparently it does work, but it takes a crane just to be able to lift it. They also have the world's largest display of yo-yos, yo-yo memorabilia and awards.

Yo-yos in space!

The toys that went to space as part of NASA's Toys in Space program included a yo-yo

The toys carried into space aboard the Challenger: yo-yo; paddle ball; friction-powered toy car; flipping mouse; top; ball and jacks; gyroscopes; Slinky; and Wheelo. (Otis Imboden/NASA-JSC)

Back in 1985, NASA had a "Toys In Space" project as part of their Space Shuttle Discovery mission. They took 11 toys into space, including a yo-yo. They hoped to see what effect microgravity (or weightlessness) would have on it. They discovered that you could release the yo-yo, but without the downward force of gravity it wouldn't "sleep" (that's where it keeps spinning at the end of the string) and would come back up the string.