I have a yo-yo and I am trying to find out the model/year or any other information I can about it. Looked around on the net but came up empty. Would anyone have more information about them? All I know is that they were my grandfathers that he had from before I was born (35 years ago).
I can’t tell what the text is on the bottom
This one I recognized but couldn’t remember the full story, so I had to call Eric Wolff for details. It’s a good one!
You’ll notice it says “Duncan YoYo” but also says “return top” across the bottom. Weird, right? This was made mid-to-late 50s, right with Don Duncan opened his trademark lawsuit with Joe Radovan over the term “yoyo”. He made these specifically to try and prove his case…that “yoyo” was the name of his product, and “return top” was the name for the toy itself. It was a sneaky, BS move to try and hold on to his trademark on the word “yoyo” that ultimately failed and contributed heavily to the bankruptcy of Duncan Toys and its sale to Flambeau.
Nice piece of yoyo history there. Probably worth about $15 - $20, but the story is worth so much more.
What still hangs in my mind, why would losing trademark over the name ‘yo-yo’ actually made them bankrupt? I mean, yes they might lose some potential money from other companies that used the word ‘yo-yo’ without giving them royalties, but that’s about the only thing they lose, or not? I still can’t see the logic here.
Losing the trademark didn’t bankrupt them. The court costs and lawyer fees of a prolonged court battle hurt them a lot, though.
Mostly what killed them was national tv advertising. From 1929 through the early 1960s, the way that Duncan promoted was by sending demonstrators out to create city-wide mini booms. They would roll in, partner with a local newspaper for advertising and prizes, do the local tv cartoon kids shows, and demo at every single 5-and-dime store in the city. They would run a big contest and give away a bike or TV or some other prize that was pretty extravagant for the time, and sell a crapload of yoyos. Campaigns would last 3-6 weeks, and then they would move on to the next city. There were about 30ish demonstrators doing this, and for them to cover every decent market in the United States was about a 3-4 year cycle. So by the time they hit the end of their route, they started back at the beginning with a fresh crop of kids. This is how you run a sustainable yoyo business.
Duncan had a marketing manager (can’t remember if it was Clyde Mortensen or Tom Ives, but I’m 90% sure it was Clyde) who convinced them to go with national tv advertising…why spend all this effort to hit a single market when for one chunk of cash you could hit the entire country!? It was a stupid, short-sighted money grab that killed the company. Because with national demand came an increase in production to required them to open more factories, and instead of having a predictable, scheduled lead time to buy lumber at a good price and cure it themselves, they had to buy pre-cured lumber at a premium price to keep inventory moving. So they were paying off all new machinery, paying more for materials, paying a ton more staff to work three shifts at multiple locations, making less profit per yoyo, paying a ton for tv advertising, and fighting a legal battle over the word “yoyo” that had been going on pretty much since the trademark was originally granted in the early 1930s.
All of this combined is what killed Duncan and led to them selling the trademark and “goodwill” to Flambeau Plastics in 1968 for the princely sum of, if I recall correctly, about $4000.
(Note: This is an oral history, gleaned from talking to a lot of demonstrators from that era. Apologies of any specific details are off, but this is a pretty accurate reckoning of what happened, even if I’m off by a year here or there.)
Thank you for a fantastic and amazingly interesting story. I may be in the minority, but, I find the story behind the history much more valuable and interesting than the exact dates. The story Steve told could have happened in any business, it just shows how a few wrong choices can compound. All that said, I can’t say I would have been able to resist the lure of national TV advertising either.