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South African Yo-yo Players

The Russell Yo-yo Revolution, or, How Yoyos Came to South Africa

We have pieced this article together from information from a few sources. If you know better or spot any errors, please let us know, we would like to hear from you.

So, how did yoyos come to South Africa? Well, the lineage may seem fairly simple: Pedro Flores, Donald Duncan, Jack Russell, Dick Moffat, but make yourself a nice hot mug of cocoa, grab a log and find a space 'round the campfire, the Legendary Tale of the Russell Yo-yo Revolution is about to begin!

The story starts with Donald Duncan, an entrepreneur who invented parking meters, and while he was staying at a hotel in Chicago, USA, he saw a Filipino man named Pedro Flores who was playing the yoyo.

Pedro worked as a concierge in the hotel and had taken the yoyo, which had a fixed string and could only go up and down, and found that he could make it spin or sleep at the bottom of the string by looping the string around the axle so that the yoyo could spin in the loop. He used to make yoyos from wood and would carve high tipping guest's initials in the yoyo and gave it to them as a present.

Being the entrepreneur that he was, Donald Duncan recognised the potential of Pedro's yoyo and string design, and immediately paid him a sum of money for the exclusive rights and hired him as a demonstrator. Duncan ran a number of yoyo campaigns in the USA and the team of demonstrators grew. The Duncan demonstrators used to follow the sun, working the Northern part of the USA in Summer, and in winter they would demostrate in the warmer, southern states.

Jack Russell was one of Duncan's demonstrators. It was while Jack was working for Duncan that he had the idea of putting a brand name on the side of the yoyo. He approached Coca-Cola with the idea, and a test campaign was run in Atlanta, the hometown of Coke. In this Duncan trick book from 1950, you can see Jack Russell standing and playing with two yoyos at the same time.

duncan trick book

The first Australian Coke yoyo campaign was in 1958, a small one run by a few of the old Duncan demonstrators, such as Phil Murray, Danny Maris and others. After this, Jack Russell decided to form his own company, and him and Duncan reached an agreement, Duncan would have the USA, and Russell would have the rest of the world to promote and sell yo-yos.

David Jones' father worked for the Sydney Coca-Cola Bottler as a supervisor, what they called a Route Manager in those days. David was still at school and went around with the demonstrators learning to play yoyo. The first Australian national campaign was in 1964 and was run by Dick Moffat. Dick Moffat is Canadian and previously worked for the Cheerio yoyo company, and was the only Russell demonstrator who wasn't an ex-Duncan demonstrator. He hired a lot of locals, and ran a training school for 6 months teaching the new recruits how to play yoyo and run contests. David Jones came along and became part of the team. One American was bought over from the US, Charlie Carranao. Below is the 1964 team photo, David Jones is at the bottom right:

australia 1964 russell yoyo demonstrator team

Here is another picture from 1964 with Russell team members. Clive Collins is at the top right and Dick Moffat bottom left. Andy Catchpole worked in South Africa quite a lot, especially in Durban, and is at the back, 4th from the right. Jack Russell is the one wearing glasses, seated between two Japanese ladies. Kazuyo, on his right, later became his wife and still lives in Florida. Jack passed away a few years ago and sadly David Jones passed away a couple of years ago. Dick Moffat stills lives in Canada and still plays yoyo, though he retired around 1980.

australia russell yoyo team

At the same time as the first Australian campaign was run, a campaign in Colombia was also run with locals hired and taught in a training school in the same as Australia. These promotions later spread through South America.

Two years after the first Australian campaign, in 1966, Dick Moffat took a team of yoyo professionals to South Africa. The team was made up of Australians, Mexicans, Colombians, Chileans and Argentines, and the manager, Dick, from Canada. Because of the political situation, a factory was setup to produce the yoyos locally, and a small training school was opened to train local yoyo demonstrators.

The South African campaign started in Johannesburg and worked its way around the country, finishing up in Cape Town over Christmas. After Christmas, in 1967, the team branched out to Swaziland, Mozambique, South West Africa (Namibia), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Malawi. All the yoyos for these were produced at the South African factory. The campaigns never went further north in Africa due to import restrictions from South Africa, and the small size of the population who could afford a yoyo made setting up local factories too uneconomical.

Here is a contest program from 1966:

russell yoyo durban south africa russell yoyo durban south africa russell yoyo durban south africa

A few years later, the Coca Cola yo-yo promotions returned to South Africa in 1972. This was the last campaign in South Africa that featured an international team - after this the political situation got too sticky, and the subsequent promotions, which ran until 1995, were run locally with very little international involvement. Here's a stunning picture taken in Cape Town, 1972:

russell yoyo promotion cape town south africa

South African made Russell yoyos often seem to be "worth" more to collectors, and this is probably because there are fewer of them. Russell only set up local factories where they could not import into (usually due to political situations), countries such as South Africa, Brasil, Argentina, China, Taiwan had their own local factories producing yoyos.

Russell has run yoyo campaigns in over 90 countries, and most of the yoyos for these promotions were produced at the main factory in the Philippines which has produced over 500,000,000 yo-yos for Coca-Cola over a 50 – 60 year period. Russell still uses the factory today. Today Russell is still run by the Russell family.

Here are two arty photos for you, the first is an early South African Fanta yoyo, and the photo on the right are South African Russell yoyos from 1995:

russell fanta yoyo russell coke yoyo

Do you have a Coca Cola / Russell yoyo story you would like to share? Drop us a line on info@theyoyologist.co.za.

Special thanks

John Niarhos
Clive Collins

Clive worked in over 50 countries, first as demonstrator, then campaign manager. In 1980 he moved to Florida and became Marketing Manager, then Vice President and finally President of Russell. In 1992 he moved to Europe and set up Jack Russell Company Europe which he ran until 1996.

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