Past Times

The yo-yo fad looped back around to Raleigh

Raleigh officials may have come to regret being photographed in such frivolous activity on the steps of City Hall. Pedro Flores, credited with starting the yo-yo craze, is seen at the left, facing the group.
Raleigh officials may have come to regret being photographed in such frivolous activity on the steps of City Hall. Pedro Flores, credited with starting the yo-yo craze, is seen at the left, facing the group. Albert Barden Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

Long before fidget spinners or Pokémon Go, there was the good old-fashioned yo-yo. It was introduced to N&O readers on the cusp of the stock market crash.

The yo-yo has made its appearance in Raleigh....

It is popular with grown-ups and youngsters alike, and since the introduction of the genuine Flores yo-yo here, they bid fair to become as much of a fad here as they have in many larger cities. Charles Silver, of 220 South Dawson Street, a factory distributor, is sponsoring the Flores yo-yo in this section. The N&O Sept. 20, 1929

More than 10 years later, as the country was pulling out of the Great Depression, the toy reappeared.

The round and spinning yo-yo, once as dead as miniature golf, is back in Raleigh, very much alive and frisky.

Lest anybody should forget the yo-yo, he has only to pass by any variety store today and note windows and counters full of the toys, with perhaps a demonstrator out front showing the customers the nuances of operating it.

For a clearer picture of its impact upon young Raleigh, he should consult teachers and principals who are faced with the problem of maintaining order among yo-yos.

One principal estimated that every third pupil had a yo-yo, with the proportion slightly higher for boys and a bit lower for girls. The same official said he had not had time to formulate an official policy to cope with the situation.

At present, he said, the individual teachers are doing their best to restrict yo-yoing to the playgrounds at recess. Some teachers follow a policy of confiscating “for keeps” all yo-yos in view during class time, while others, more tenderhearted, return them after classes.

The yo-yo returned to Raleigh Monday a week ago when a leading manufacturer sent a corps of demonstrators to the city to promote the sale of a 10-cent and a 25-cent variety. The cheaper gadget is for beginners and lacks the ability of the more expensive one to slip out of gear at the end of the string and remain whirling there until snapped back again.

The 25-cent ones are required for championship contests which the manufacturer will promote, starting this week, at neighboring drug stores. Naturally, they are the more coveted. The yo-yo story of the week therefore concerns a tear-streaked youngster who begged his teacher to let him substitute a 10-cent toy for the 25-cent one she had confiscated.

The national fad for yo-yoing struck the country about 1932, when citizens of all ages discovered the toy and purchased millions with the same lack of restraint they went after miniature golf.

Unlike half-acre golf courses, which died the same season they were born, the yo-yo staged a timid revival for several seasons until it fell into the hands of a manufacturer who elevated it from a toy to a precision instrument.

There is now a whole vocabulary of terms to describe the various plays, beginning with the simple Spinner and progressing to Walking the Dog, Break Away, Around the World, Over the Falls, Three Leaf Clover, Figure Eight and such double-plays as the Kentucky Derby, requiring two yo-yos for execution, and the Creeper, combining a Spinner and Walking the Dog.

Should the yo-yo take the adult fancy, there is at least one place in Raleigh, the City Hall, where its welcome likely will be a cold one. Certain employes who survived a change of administration are still unable to suppress a shudder when the toy is mentioned.

Their story is that of yielding to a publicity gag. At the time of the yo-yo’s first coming, they innocently lined up on the City Hall steps for a picture showing the city’s Great Minds relaxing with yo-yos.

During a later campaign, the not too scrupulous opposition got a print of the picture, blacked out the faces of the officials on their friendly list and handbilled the remainder with a caption calling for a clean sweep of the infantile city government. The N&O March 3, 1940

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Teresa Leonard: 919-829-4866, @lizardlodge

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