America loves the yo-yo

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 21, 2017

West Virginia entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan (1892-1971) had never heard of the yo-yo until 1928, when he encountered Pedro Flores on a business trip to California.

Earlier that same decade, Flores had immigrated to America from the Philippines, and initially worked as a bellhop at a Santa Monica hotel. Carving and playing with wooden yo-yos was a traditional pastime in the Philippines, but Flores found that his lunch break yo-yo playing drew a crowd. He promptly started a company to make the toys, calling it the Flores Yo-Yo Company (“yo-yo” means “come-come” in the Tagalog language).

Young girl with yo-yoIn 1930 Duncan bought out Flores, who went to work for Duncan running promotions. The company teamed up with Hearst Newspapers to promote yo-yo contests. Hearst added a twist, requiring players to sell three newspaper subscriptions if they wished to compete in the contests. A single promotion in Philadelphia sold 3 million yo-yos in 30 days. Duncan introduced the looped slip-string, which allows the yo-yo to sleep – a necessity for advanced tricks.

The company imported a number of teenagers from the Philippines to demonstrate the toy and numerous tricks and stunts to the American public. This marketing worked and quickly the toy (which Duncan called the “O-Boy Yo-yo Top”) became a bestseller. Manufacturing shifted to Baurle Brothers in Chicago. The first ever World Yo-Yo Competition was held in London, in 1932. Harvey Lowe, age 13, won.

Also in 1932 Duncan filed for and was assigned a trademark for the word yo-yo, which the company held until challenged in 1965. In a landmark intellectual property case that year (Donald F. Duncan, Inc. v. Royal Tops Mfg. Co., 343 F.2d 655 (7th Cir. 1965), a federal court of appeals ruled in favor of the Royal Tops Company, asserting that the term had become a part of common speech.

The genuine Duncan yo-yo is a classic toy that has endured for 80 years. With more than 600 million sold, it is probably the most popular toy in history, and has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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A day in the life of Pulaski County VA

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 20, 2017

The Southwest Times
“serving Southwest Virginia since 1906”

Friday, April 20, 1928

F. A. Seagle was called to Marion today in connection with the undertaking department of Seagle Bros.


Howard C. Gilmer left yesterday evening for New York on a profesional trip, expecting to be away for several days.


A communications from Commonwealth’s Attorney F.W. Morton, who has been under treatment of a specialist in Richmond, advises that it has been necessary for him to return to the hospital. He had expected to return to Pulaski the first of the week, but in view of the change in his condition he is unable to do so.


Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Izard, who were injured in an automobile wreck in Drapers Valley last week when their car overturned against a telephone pole, and Miss Bertha Vogi, who was struck by an automobile while walking along the road in Newbern, are all reported to be getting along very satisfactorily, their conditions showing improvement.

online at

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The Kentucky Cave Wars

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 19, 2017

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is not only the largest known cave in the world; it has the distinction of being the oldest touring cave. Formal guided tours were started here in 1816. It remained in private ownership for the next 125 years and grew to become a prime tour attraction. And because Mammoth had showed the tremendous profit potential in cave tourism, it incited a cave war in the 1920s, at the dawn of the automobile vacation era.

Since the Croghan family controlled most of the land on the ridge where Mammoth Cave was located, would-be cave tour operators began to focus on properties on neighboring Flint Ridge, which was separated from the Mammoth Cave ridge by narrow Houchins Valley.

In 1921, a Louisville oil driller named George Morrison forced another opening into the Mammoth Cave system and set up shop on Flint Ridge, advertising the “New Entrance to Mammoth Cave.” Before long the combat was on among Colossal Cave, Long Cave, Short’s Cave, Great Onyx Cave, Indian Cave, Salts Cave and Crystal Cave.

Kentucky Cave War signThe search for new caves to commercialize became so dangerous and secretive that a cave exploring death was almost inevitable; it arrived in the person of Floyd Collins, who lost his life in 1925 in Sand Cave, searching for the first cave entrance on the 10-1/2 mile road from Cave City to Mammoth.

Mammoth’s rivals went to dastardly lengths to lure tourists to their underground cash cows. They placed misleading signs along the roads leading from Cave City to the Mammoth Cave. They diverted tourists with fake policemen, employed stooges to heckle each other’s guided tours, burned down ticket huts, and put out libelous and forged advertisements.

A typical strategy during the early days of automobile travel involved a representative of a private show cave — a capper — hopping aboard a tourist’s car’s running board, and leading the passengers to believe that Mammoth Cave was closed, quarantined, caved in or otherwise inaccessible.

By April 1928 the promise of tourist dollars drove two owners of adjoining caves to legal blows over property rights in Edwards v. Sims. L.P. Edwards had discovered a cave whose entrance, 3 miles down the road from Mammoth Cave, was on his property. He developed it into a tourist attraction—the Great Onyx Cave, and went so far as to build a tourist hotel near the cave’s mouth.

entry to Great Onyx CaveEdwards’ neighbor F. P. Lee suspected that part of the cave was located under his land. The cave was completely inaccessible to Lee – hundreds of feet below his land. He sued Edwards for trespassing, fully aware of the tourist dollars he stood to gain by it. Edwards argued that allocating ownership of part of the cave to Lee constituted an unmerited windfall.

The case dragged on for years, all the way to the Kentucky Court of Appeal. Final ruling in 1936: the surface owner had rights to a cave below his property, even if the only entrance to the cave was on someone else’s property. Sims was the name of the Edmonson County circuit court judge against whom Edwards filed an appeal.

Many of the Flint Ridge caves were later found to be an extension of Mammoth Cave and were eventually brought into the fold when it became a National Park (chartered in 1926 and opened in 1941). Even after Federal incorporation, agents for several commercial caves impersonated rangers and flagged travelers off the road before they could reach the national park. Some of the entrances used for today’s tours are left over from that era when they were thought to be separate caves.



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I wish I had never heard of Tennessee

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 18, 2017

“Religious leaders have always had a very powerful influence in Wales,” says Alan Conway in The Welsh in America: Letters from Immigrants. “In the early years of the nineteenth century they had not been in favor of emigration as the means for curing the ills that beset the Welsh, but eventually they came down heavily in favor of this remedy. Men like Benjamin W. Chidlaw and R. D. Thomas wrote and spoke constantly in favor of emigration to the United States, and produced emigrant guidebooks for the Welsh in their native tongue.”

Of these Welsh settlements in America, the most famous is that of Brynyffynnon in eastern Tennessee, established in 1855 by Samuel Roberts of Llanbrynmair. Roberts, a Congregationalist minister, was also a tenant farmer, a scholar, and a considerable social force in nineteenth-century Wales.

In conjunction with William Bebb of Illinois, Gwilym Williams, William and John Roberts Jones, and his own brother Richard, all of Llanbrynmair, S. R. (as he was known in Wales) purchased a hundred thousand acres of land in Scott County, which they were prepared to sell to buyers at ½ crown an acre, and at somewhat higher prices for choice lots.

Welsh minister Samuel RobertsSamuel Roberts.

Richard Roberts took out the first group of settlers in 1856 and was followed by S. R. in 1857 with a second group. Like other immigrants to America, the Welsh had to deal with uprooting from friends and homes in Wales, a hazardous sea voyage to the new world, the difficulty of finding a suitable area in which to settle, the hard labor and frustration of clearing a site, shortage of money, the threat of disease and death, and that peculiar Welsh form of homesickness, hiraeth.

Keep in mind that the men who undertook to organize this emigration had never seen the land. The average Welsh citizen of the times was not aware that the land was hardly accessible due to the underdeveloped mountainous area; nor that improvement of the land was next to impossible because of a lack of flat grazing land and building sites. The pastures were more suited for goats than for cattle.

The prospectus of the Welsh settlement in Tennessee was a sound and workmanlike document. Unfortunately, the purchasers had not reckoned with the Southern system of land sales. Almost immediately they found that their title to much of the land was disputed, and a series of lawsuits rendered the settlement virtually stillborn.

The Welsh settlers began to break up, many believing they had been defrauded. Some of these people moved down the valley and became the founders of the Coal Creek settlement, or joined the Knoxville Welsh community.

William Bebb, although transferring the blame for failure to the settlers themselves, maintained that it was impossible to conserve a Welsh island in an ocean of other peoples and least of all in Tennessee on the brink of a civil war.

Caption inset reads: “Brynyffynon was located on Nancy’s Branch near its junction with Pine Creek, approximately three miles from the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, according to this map reprinted from Wilbur S. Shepperson’s book ‘Samuel Roberts, A Welsh Colonizer in Civil War Tennessee’ (UT Press, 1961).” Courtesy David R. Thomas/Coal Creek Watershed Foundation

Caption inset reads: “Brynyffynon was located on Nancy’s Branch near its junction with Pine Creek, approximately three miles from the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, according to this map reprinted from Wilbur S. Shepperson’s book ‘Samuel Roberts, A Welsh Colonizer in Civil War Tennessee’ (UT Press, 1961).” Courtesy David R. Thomas/Coal Creek Watershed Foundation


Mr. John Roberts Jones, of Allen County, OH, was a partner of Bebb and Roberts. In March, 1858, Mr. Jones wrote this letter:

I am sorry that our venture has caused and is causing so much ill feeling as there is between us as relations. I wish that I had never seen Mr. Bebb and E. B. Jones and that I had never heard of Tennessee. Undoubtedly, we have all been disappointed in our venture. It would be a blessing if it could be sold and if each one had his money back. It was terrible indeed of Mr. Bebb to persuade us to buy land in Tennessee without knowing more about it and with the titles being so uncertain. He should have been the first settler according to his promise.

When I heard Mr. Bebb in Wales sighing and groaning that we were suffering such oppression, living on hopeless and sunless farms, boasting of the great fortune that he had made for us and the paradise that was to be had on this side of the Atlantic, who would not have expected something from him!! I have not seen him proving any of his claims and I judge that he had nothing in view except his own pocket.

By 1861, the War Between the States had started; unfortunately for the Roberts, Tennessee was on the North/South divide and the state itself was split. East Tennessee remained loyal to the North and the Union while the rest of the state was Confederate. Diary extracts show that stores at Brynyffynnon were plundered, and meals and board had to be offered to soldiers; sometimes payment would be made for these but not always.

Brynyfynnon TNAt first Brynyffynnon mainly provided food and shelter but as the war progressed the Union troops took more of their provisions and supplies. Sometimes the troops left insufficient hay for the Roberts’ animals to feed on, and the livestock subsequently died. Troops also took their guns, rifles, pistols, powder, and stirrups—in fact anything that could be of use. At times their lives were threatened and several of their friends were killed.

The war restricted movement, although Roberts managed two tours in the North. However he was coming under increasing criticism from the North; some found it hard to understand his residency in Tennessee given his anti-slavery stance, particularly while their friends and family were fighting in the war. Locals suspected the Roberts of being Fifth Columnists working for the North.

The end of the war did not improve their lot; they still were beset with financial problems and legal wrangling over land. There was still much opposition and misunderstanding from the Welsh speaking communities over their position in the war.

Defeated in his dream of a Welsh Utopia and financially ruined, in 1866 Samuel Roberts sailed for Wales. He came back to the States in April 1870 to arrange for the sale of the land in Tennessee, before returning to Bryn Mair on Conwy Morfa in North Wales. Roberts remained there for rest of his life, devoting his energies to the life of ministering, to theological colleges and to political journalism.



3 Responses

  • Charles Lewis Howell says:

    Samuel Roberts is a long lost 3rd cousin. ONly recently [2012]
    have I and my small group of American cousins come to know of his works. I have met another living cousin decendant form Samuel’s Uncle George, who immigrated in 1792.And, recently contacted cousins on the Howell side of the family.
    You are invited to contact me at, in this regard.

  • John Ballard says:

    I have been working on the Bebb and Roberts families of Llanbrynmair, Ohio and Tennessee and attempting to put together a short life of Governor William Bebb. I’ve just discovered the Howell connection and would like to be in touch with your previous commenter, Charles Lewis Howell.

  • Ken Richards says:

    “S.R.” returned to Wales in 1866 to a mixed reception. Some felt that he had “sold out” to Confederate values, slavery in particular, immediately before and during the Civil War. Others were more inclined to believe his side of the story of a questionable land deal, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time following the Civil War. Some of his greatest critics at the time were Unionists in the United States. Their criticisms of S.R. were taken up in the Welsh press of the day.

    On this return to the UK, S.R. settled for a while in Dolgellau, Wales, where he become the editor of a weekly newspaper, ‘Y Dydd” (The Day), which continues to be published to this day. Historic copies of ‘Y Dydd” are available online at Welsh Newspapers Online at http://www.newspapers.library.

    S.R. moved to Conway after a few years at the helm of the newspaper.

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See what a break that was? We got the 40 hour week

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 17, 2017

In 1924, when I was 16 years old, I started workin’ at the Appalachian Mill as a cone winder operator. Now on that machine, that was a long machine, it had about 50 spindles on it and I was windin’ threads from a cone up to a spool. There wasn’t a clock in the room. I didn’t have a watch and I didn’t know what time it was. So about 9 o’clock I thought it must be time to go home. That was the longest day that I can ever remember. And I remember, very definitely, eating my lunch at 10:30 because I thought it must be lunchtime. It wasn’t lunchtime.

I still had to continue on until 12, until the whistle blew and most of us carried our lunch. And that was the shortest 30 minutes you’ve ever had, too. We would go outside the mill and sit on the steps and eat our lunch, but that was a long day. And when I started to thinkin’ about that, “From now till 4:30, can I make it, can I make it?” But I did make it and, of course, each day that got a little easier, you know.

Did I know what I was doin’ when I went into the cotton mill? No, I did not. It was just a way to, ah, help earn a living for the family. I had no ideas at all about, ah, ah, union labor. Now I had heard of the railroad strike in 1921, but there were—there wasn’t any railroad workers living around where we were and there was very little in the papers about it. But I didn’t know that they were even in the union. I thought they just quit work. I—I had no way of knowing anything about the labor movement.

It was the last thing in the world that my parents wanted, for us to go into cotton mills. They wanted us to all continue going to school. My mother had visions of us going to university and college and graduatin’ and becoming doctors and lawyers and all that. And that was a dream that was never realized, because of the Depression there and there was no way.

My father couldn’t make a livin’ workin’ in a butcher shop and in food markets around. And he had no other skills either. And my mother had been a—a cook and a dressmaker and they had no way of makin’ a livin’. So it was up to us children to do that. We—we had to. We had to go to work.

boys & girls in Tennessee cotton millBoys and girls at Bemis Cotton Mill in Bemis, TN, 1905.

The—at the Cherokee Spinnin’ Company there in 1933, where I was still working as a winding machine operator, but the end of my machine was near a window and right around the corner from that was the weave shop. And I looked out there one day and here’s all these weavers sittin’ out there in the afternoon—it wasn’t their lunch hour—they were sittin’ out there on a pile of lumber, just sitting there. And we all—I told everbody to run to the window and looked at ‘em and we all wondered, “What are—what are they doing?”

And we still didn’t quite understand it, but I think now that they did gain something from that strike.

Oh, yes. That’s—that’s when we got the 8 hours. When the NRA came in, we got 8 hours then and our wages went up to $12.40 a week.

That was great, but you know what an argument here in Knoxville was and it was in all the newspapers. What—wasn’t that gonna cause a crime wave or wasn’t something gonna happen with those people with all that leisure time on their hands? In fact, a newspaper reporter—I don’t think that’s in my scrapbook anywhere, but a newspaper reporter came out to my house one day to ask, “What do you do with all this leisure time?” We—that was time that we hadn’t had before and they were really afraid of it, that we had that leisure time. And then we were off on Saturday. See what a break that was there? We got the 40-hour week.

Lucille Thornburgh


In 1933, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Recovery Act, which included provisions that protected the right of workers to organize, Lucille Thornburgh and seven coworkers drew up a union charter. With the help of a local union organizer, they signed up all 603 employees at Cherokee Mills.

In 1934 Cherokee workers joined textile workers across the South in a general strike known as the Uprising of 1934. Knoxville workers remained out for eight weeks, but the strike collapsed following the sudden death of owner Hal Mebane, an event Thornburgh says workers interpreted in religious terms. When the workers returned, Thornburgh was blacklisted, and other mill owners refused to hire her.

In 1995 Thornburgh was featured in the PBS film Uprising of ’34, which documented the general textile strike.

Source: Lucille Thornburgh interview, edited, from WORK ‘N PROGRESS: Lessons in the History of American Labor at Archives, Library and Information Center, Georgia Institute of Technology

commentary by Connie L. Lester, Mississippi State University/Tennessee Historical Society/Tennessee Encyclopedia

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