The Story Behind the Photo

N.53.17.520 From the Albert Barden Photograph Collection, North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, NC.

A group of men and women pose with yo-yos on the steps of City Hall in Raleigh, NC around 1930. Among them? Pedro Flores, the Filipino immigrant responsible for the revival of the yo-yo. He’s second from the 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 dates to a painted Greek vase in 500 B.C. The image—a boy with his arm extended, his hand gripping a string with a dangling round object near his feet. This visage is about as anachronistic as, say, Bart Simpson donning a tunic.

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 happened all over the country, many featuring Flores himself.

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 yo-yo and attending contests for it. 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.

In closing, here’s a bit of yo-yo press published in The Raleigh News & Observer‘s “Views and Observations” section in October 1929.

“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 public has got any business being allowed to vote. And besides, I can’t get the hang of the dang things, anyhow.”

Ian F. G. Dunn

Processing Archivist

State Archives of North Carolina

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