Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Duncan Family Yo-yo Collection

Collection ID:
Duncan, Donald F., Jr.
Duncan Yo-Yo Company.
Collection is in
. Some materials in
Physical Description:
14 Cubic feet
40 boxes

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Duncan Family Yo-Yo Collection consists of papers, photographs, advertising materials, scrapbooks, clippings and audio-visual materials. These materials trace the rise and fall of the companies owned by the Duncan family as well as the world of yo-yo's. The materials date from 1929 to 2002, with the bulk of the material focused on the Donald F. Duncan, Inc., and the companies that would become Playmaxx, Inc.
The collection is arranged in seven series. Series one contains business material pertaining to Donald F. Duncan, Inc., and its spin off companies. Series two contains material about Donald F. Duncan, Inc. It contains business records, correspondence, photographs, advertising materials, contest materials, information about demonstrators, and sales. Series three describes the creation of Duncraft, Inc. and how it changed names to Duracraft, Inc., finally becoming Playmaxx, Inc. The series contains material on the creation of a small business, photographs, advertising materials, instructional materials, patents and correspondence. Series four contains newspaper clippings arranged by dates. Series five contains information on the competitors of Donald F. Duncan, Inc, and Playmaxx, Inc. as well as information on the Flambeau Corporation who had bought out the Duncan name and was continuing to sell yo-yos. Series six contains information on yo-yos in general. It has materials including articles, magazines, books, music, information on the Smothers Brothers, and miscellaneous material. Series seven contains audio-visual materials including commercials, videos, audio tape and records.

Collection is divided into eight series.
Series 1, Donald F. Duncan, Inc. Records, 1930-1985
Subseries 1, Minute books, 1930-1967
Subseries 2, Correspondence, 1930-1985
Subseries 3, Organizational Materials, 1959, 1962
Subseries 4, Conference Reports, 1962-1963
Subseries 5, Financial materials, 1959-1965
Subseries 6, Employee and Personnel Materials, 1962-1964
Subseries 7, Sales Materials, 1958-1965
Subseries 8, Advertising & Promotional Materials, 1957, 1962-1965
Subseries 9, Production Materials, 1954-1980
Subseries 10, Instructional Materials, 1950-1963
Subseries 11, Scrapbooks, 1930s
Subseries 12, Photographs, 1957 and undated
Subseries 13, Other Companies, 1956-1967
Subseries 14, Empty Binders, undated
Series 2: Playmaxx, 1967-2000
Subseries 1, Corporate Records, 1987-1995
Subseries 2, Correspondence, 1967-2000
Subseries 3, Advertising and Promotional materials, 1982-1990
Subseries 4, Financial Materials, 1990-1995
Subseries 5, Employee and Personnel materials, 1990-1995
Subseries 6, Sales Materials, 1981-1997
Subseries 7, Patents, 1974-1997
Subseries 8, Production Materials, 1980-1992
Subseries 9, Newsletters and Releases, 1978, 1997
Subseries 10, Programs, 1981-1997
Subseries 11, Duracraft, 1977-1986
Subseries 12, Competitors, 1976-1997
Subseries 13, Miscellaneous, 1997
Series 3: Yo-Yo's, 1928-2002
Subseries 1, Newspaper clippings, 1929-1999
Subseries 2, Articles, 1952-1998
Subseries 3, Books, 1978-2000
Subseries 4, Instructional Materials, undated
Subseries 5, Magazine, 1958-2002
Subseries 6, Newsletters, 1988-1999
Subseries 7, Music, 1930-1964
Subseries 8, Competitors, 1958-1992
Subseries 9, Contests, 1997-2000
Subseries 10, Photographs, undated
Subseries 11, Miscellaneous, 1930-2002
Series 4, Other Toys, 1935-1991
Subseries 1, Toys, 1935-1991
Subseries 2, Photographs of Other Toys, undated
Subseries 3, Photographs of Tops, undated
Series 5, Audiovisual Materials, 1946-1996

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Donald F. Duncan (1892-1971), a businessman who had successfully marketed parking meters and ice cream, began to sell yo-yos after seeing them on a visit to California. Duncan founded Donald F. Duncan, Inc. in 1930, running it with the help of family members and soon got the word yo-yo trademarked. Duncan marketed the yo-yo successfully by using traveling demonstrators, many who were Filipinos, to hold contests around the country to increase demand. Duncan claimed the yo-yo was once a primitive hunting weapon in the Philippines and whose name meant "come-come". Duncan also used the slogan, "If it isn't a Duncan, it isn't a Yo-Yo."
As the company became more successful a plant in Luck, WI was constructed to be near the maple used to produce the yo-yos. The management division remained in Chicago, where it shared some of the same staff as the Duncan Parking Meter Company. The company also began to branch out, trying to create new toys and products, including a line of tops and selling plastic yo-yos. In the early 1960s the company, now run by Donald F. Duncan, Jr., began an aggressive and expensive marketing campaign using television ads, creating a huge demand for yo-yos that the Luck plant could not keep up with.
By 1965 Donald F. Duncan, Inc. was in financial trouble. The company was unable to keep up with demand for yo-yos, losing out to other brands. They lost an expensive legal battle Royal Tops over trademark infringement. The court ruled that the word yo-yo was the generic word for the toy. In 1965 the company's creditors wanted their money and the company filed for bankruptcy. The company was auctioned off in 1966, with the Flambeau Corporation, owners of the plastic yo-yo molds, buying the Duncan name and continuing to produce Duncan Yo-Yos.
In the early 1970s, Donald F. Duncan Jr. wanted to return to the yo-yo business. He created and received a patent for a plastic yo-yo that was balanced to maximize spin time, allowing tricks to be performed better and longer. Duncan created a series of companies, Duncraft, Inc., in 1976, Duracraft, Inc., in 1977, and finally Playmaxx, Inc., in 1987, to market his new yo-yo. These companies, based in Arizona, were primarily run by Duncan and his wife Donna. They focused on school demonstrations and other programs to sell yo-yo's. The yo¬yo, known as the ProYo, has removable sides allowing it to be display any type of logo. In addition to Playmaxx, the Duncan's also ran a yo-yo museum, the Yozeum. By the end of the 1990s, Playmaxx was no longer in business and the Duncan's moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where they operated the Yozeum.

Cassie Domek
Separated Materials
The Division of Culture and the Arts (now Division of Cultural and Community Life) holds related artifacts. See accession #2002.0246, #2004.0029, #2007.0158.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, by the Duncan family in March, 2002.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Cassie Domek, 2002.
An addenda consisting of 35 photographs documenting Tommy Reyes, a yo-yo demonstartor, was donated by Robert Reyes on December 17, 2017.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Duncan Family Yo-yo Collection, 1928-2002, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.

Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Bob Rule Papers, circa 1950-2002 (AC0855)

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Advertisements Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Yo-yos Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures (visual works) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Training films Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Toys Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Toy industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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