First introduced to Europe in the 18th century and then the United States in 1866, the yo-yo became one of the most popular toys of the 20th century. The origin of the toy is uncertain, with the most popular theory being that yo-yos were first used in China around 1000 B.C. Others suggest the toy originated in ancient Greece or the Philippines. Still others believe that each of these cultures developed yo-yos independently of each other.

Chinese Yo-Yos

The Chinese are known to have developed a toy similar to today's yo-yo by the Ming Dynasty, which lasted from 1386 to 1644. The toy – called a "diabolo" in China – was especially popular in Northern China. Early diabolos were made of bamboo or wood and were commonly used by street entertainers. Chinese yo-yos often have holes drilled in them, which allow them to make a musical whirring sound. Some suggest that the yo-yo was originally designed as a weapon, but yo-yo historian Dr. Lucky Meisenheimer contends that this story was fabricated by the Duncan Company to sell more yo-yos in the United States.