Donald Duncan Jr., yo-yo entrepreneur, dies in N.M. traffic crash

Saturday, June 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Donald Duncan Jr., whose father founded the company in the 1920s that churned out millions of Duncan yo-yos and who later helped popularize the toy himself, has died in a single-vehicle crash in southern New Mexico, police said. He was 76.

Duncan Jr. and his wife Donna, 72, both of Bartlesville, Okla., were killed Thursday when their sport-utility vehicle drifted onto the median on Interstate 10 near Deming and flipped over, state police said.

``(Donald and Donna) were just downright caring, sensitive people, and everybody loved them. Everybody's just shocked,'' said Bob Malowney, director of the National YoYo Museum in Chico, Calif.

Duncan, who was born in Chicago on May 14, 1927, settled in Oklahoma with his wife in 1999.

It was his father, Donald Duncan Sr., who founded Chicago-based Duncan Toys Co., which started producing yo-yos in the United States in the 1920s.

In 1950, Duncan Jr. was named president of the company, by then based in Wisconsin. In 1957, his father retired, leaving control of the company to Duncan Jr. and his other son, Jack, according to Malowney.

With Duncan Jr. at the helm, the Duncan name became synonymous with the toy, which in fact had been around for centuries. His decision to start advertising on television created a fad and by 1962, Duncan's yo-yo sales had grown to $7 million a year.

Duncan Jr. found a way to market the toy as a cultural mandate for America's youth, Malowney said.

``It was the first product that wasn't aimed at parents telling them to get this for their kids,'' he said. ``It was the first thing that said, 'Kids, get this!' It kind of became the beginning of the youth market.''

In the mid-1960s, the toy's popularity suffered a decline, and in 1968 the Duncan name was bought by Ohio-based Flambeau Products Corp.

Duncan Jr. later re-entered the yo-yo world when he started another company, Playmaxx, in 1974. He created the ProYo yo-yo, acclaimed by some aficionados as the father of modern yo-yos, Malowney said.

Duncan helped refuel interest in the yo-yo in the 1990s when he toured the country with his ``Return of the Yo-Yo'' exhibit, which included antique yo-yos, photographs and international yo-yo memorabilia, Malowney said.

Duncan retired in 1999 and his business partner took over the company.

Duncan is survived by two daughters, Linnea Heap of Phoenix, and Jana Duncan of Los Angeles, and three grandchildren.