The Duncan name is synonymous with the yo-yo which began with Pedro Flores in 1928 and his Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company. As an immigrant to the United States, Pedro thought of marketing the Philippine traditional wooden toy, the “yo-yo,” which he played with as a child. Though many cultures had a similar toy, it was the Philippine Tagalog language that gave it the yo-yo name, which meant “come-come.”1
By the end of 1929, Pedro had three factories, 600 employees, and was producing thousands of yo-yos per day. One his competitors, Donald F. Duncan, bought the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company in 1930, renamed it the Donald F. Duncan Yo-Yo Company, and sold the Flores yo-yo's with his own models.2
Pedro, working for Duncan, continued to promote the yo-yo across the United States with increasingly challenging yo-yo contests and a team of expert Filipino yo-yo players that would demonstrate, tell a dramatic history of the toy, and sometimes carve pictures onto the yo-yos that were bought. Celebrities were also helpful in promoting yo-yo use, including Bing Crosby, Mary Pickford, and Lou Gehrig.
In 1932, the World Yo-Yo Competition was held in London, and Duncan's distribution began to expand internationally. They added a fixed string “O-Boy” beginner model and a tournament Gold Seal version. For novelty they had a tin whistling yo-yo as well.
Needing a ready supply of the hard maple wood for the yo-yo's, Duncan built a manufacturing plant in Luck, Wisconsin in 1946.3 The 1950s brought the introduction of plastic models, beginning in 1950 with the Electric Yo-Yo, which lit up due to a battery powered light embedded inside. Next was the Pony Boy in 1954, which was a junior sized yo-yo with a rattling BB inside. The classic Imperial was introduced next, and it would become one of the best selling yo-yo's to date. The Imperial was a tennite plastic version of their original Model 77.
Venturing into new designs, the unusual Butterfly model, an inside out yo-yo design, was first offered in the mid-1950s. This design allowed a wider slot to catch the string when doing tricks. Duncan also began marketing wooden spin tops.
Donald retired in 1957 and left the company to his sons, Donald, Jr. and Jack. With television commercials and new model versions being developed, the company continued to grow. However, in the 1960s, Duncan sued the Royal Tops Manufacturing Co. over the use of the name “yo-yo.” They lost the lawsuit in 1965 and both companies went bankrupt due to legal costs and the fading “yo-yo craze.”4 Two years later Fred Strombeck bought the yo-yo lathes and manufactured the Medalist, the last wooden Duncan yo-yo model. When Fred died in 1972, this production ceased.5
In 1968, Flambeau Products Corporation bought the “Duncan name and good will.”6 Since Flambeau had manufactured plastic yo-yo's for Duncan for thirteen years, they had the molds to start production again. With new plastic yo-yo models and demonstrators the company was revived.
The yo-yo design significantly changed in the 1970s and the 1980s. Duncan reflected these innovations with their World Class model, a butterfly yo-yo with metal weight rings and a teflon-coated axle for longer “sleep” times. To counter an industry-wide slump in sales, Duncan brought their former marketing executive, Clyde Mortensen, out of retirement. In 1986, he began television commercials, which built on the momentum of the recent historic event: an astronaut used a plastic yellow Duncan Imperial on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
In the 1990s, Duncan sponsored the traveling exhibition “Return of the Yo-Yo,” more yo-yo contests, and donated the Duncan Family Collection to the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, California. The American Yo-Yo Association was also formed.
When sales slumped again, Duncan hired yo-yo inventor, Michael Caffrey to lead a revival in marketing. In 1995, Michael created “Video Boy” television commercials and wrote the educational program “Teaching Science With the Yo-Yo” for sixth grade classrooms. By 1996, Duncan was selling nearly 5 million yo-yo's, which was an increase of 50% over 1994. To keep up with demand they had their Columbus, Indiana plant running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a new production line was opened in the Flambeau Products' Middlefield, Ohio plant.
In 1997, Duncan acquired the rights to the Wizzzer, a toy top with a friction motor inside to increase the spin, and thus added to their toy top products.7
Duncan introduced a new “Hardcore” line of innovative yo-yo designs in 1999, which included take-apart bodies, ball-bearing transaxles, adjustable weight systems, and the open-faced shaped Avenger. Duncan also introduced the Storm Series of spin tops that same year.8
In 2000, Duncan acquired the German Mondial design from CameYo. This slim aluminum yo-yo had a self-lubing ball-bearing, an adjustable, lockable string gap, rim-weighted positive grip, and a rubber O-ring rim liner for easy of handling.9
The following year, Duncan produced the Freehand model, one of the first yo-yo's that wasn't tied to a player's hand. One of Duncan's demonstrators, Steve Brown, invented freehand-style yo-yo play and holds a patent for a freehand counterweight system. Later, in 2002, he would be given the title of U.S. National Yo-Yo Master.10
At the end of 2001, Duncan bought Playmaxx, Inc., a competitor that had been formed by Donald F. Duncan Jr. after the original Duncan company's bankruptcy. Playmaxx's innovative products, such as the ProYo, Bumble Bee, and Cold Fusion as well as many of their patents, became part of Duncan Toys Company, including four patents concerning Brake Pad Technology for yo-yos.11
Continuing to add to their line of yo-yos, Duncan introduces the Speed Beetle, Flying Panda, and the Throwmonkey in 2003. To celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2004, Duncan produced special edition Vintage yo-yos, a complete line of juggling products, a new line of gyroscopes, instructional CD's, the FH Zero, and the Freehand MG, the most expensive non-custom yo-yo sold to date.
A return of the wooden classic Satellite yo-yo was released in 2005 along with the Yo-Yo Viking tour DVD and the Philippine National Yo-Yo Contest DVD. A line of footbags were added in 2006.
- 1. “Duncan Toys Company – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Duncan Toys Company.” Reference for Business, Company History Index. < http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/37/Duncan-Toys-Company.html > 27 Jan. 2011.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. “History: 1929-1957.” Duncan. < http://www.yo-yo.com/history_noflash3.asp > 20 Feb. 2011.
- 4. Op. cit. “Duncan Toys Company – Company Profile.”
- 5. “History: 1959-1987.” Duncan. < http://www.yo-yo.com/history_noflash4.asp > 20 Feb. 2011.
- 6. Op. cit. “Duncan Toys Company – Company Profile.”
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. History: 1997-2001.” Duncan. < http://www.yo-yo.com/history_noflash6.asp > 20 Feb. 2011.
- 9. Zhangsdf, Betty. “Duncan Toys Company...” < http://articledirectory.com/Art/413461/332/Duncan-Toys-Company-Brass-Water-Valves-Induction-Coil.html > 20 Feb. 2011.
- 10. “History 1997-2001.” < http://www.yo-yo.com/history_noflash6.asp > 20 Feb. 2011.
- 11. “History 2002-2006.” Duncan. < http://www.yo-yo.com/history_noflash7.asp > 20 Feb. 2011.