[This blog post was written by Ian F.G. Dunn, Processing Archivist, Special Collections Section, State Archives of North Carolina.]
Above, a group of city officials is seen posing with yo-yos on the steps of Raleigh City Hall around 1930. Among them? Pedro Flores, the Filipino immigrant responsible for the revival of the yo-yo. He is seen second from left, closest to the camera.
Many people associate the yo-yo with the 1940s and 50s, but it’s been around much longer. In fact, the oldest-known reference is painted upon a Greek vase dating to 500 B.C. The image on the vessel depicts a boy with his arm extended, his hand gripping a string with a dangling round object near his feet. The scene seems as anachronistic as, say, Abraham Lincoln fiddling with a smart phone.
But back to Flores: Although he never claimed to be the inventor of the yo-yo, he did own the patent for a modernized version. In 1928, he began manufacturing and marketing the toys. Months later, factories were up and running, churning out hundreds of thousands of yo-yos every day. Competitions were held all over the country, many featuring Flores himself. Nearly overnight, the toy became a sensation—so much so, it was riling up some of the curmudgeons in town. In October 1929. The News and Observer printed a particularly colorful tirade in their Views and Observations section,
“I ain’t exactly intolerant,” declared Tom Robertson of Chatham county, “and I take considerable pride in the fact that I’ve learned to pass a grown man wearing short pants without even turning my head, much less insulting him, but this here Yo-Yo business is just a little too much for me. I’m gettin’ afraid to come to Raleigh any more for fear my pent-up passions will bust loose and cause me to kick the daylights out of the next so-called citizen I see spinnin’ one of them little tops. I’m a lifelong democrat and up till now I never doubted my democracy but darned if I believe that a 21-year-old person who plays with one of them things in pubic has got any business being allowed to vote. And besides, I can’t get the hang of the dang things, anyhow.”
In late 1929, Donald Duncan bought the Flores Corporation. So, only a month after the 1929 stock market crash, Flores found himself flush with money. This new wealth enabled him to concentrate on what he loved to do—promoting the toy and attending yo-yo contests. This photograph was probably taken as he passed through Raleigh on one of his yo-yo competition tours. The faces in the group stare forward, alight with the novelty and frivolity of this little toy during a heavy time of unrest and worry.
The yo-yo has since continued to delight and distract people of all ages and in 1999 was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.