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Meet Catherine Hettinger, the woman who invented the fidget spinner two decades ago

While manufacturers now are struggling to meet the demands for these toys, the inventor of fidget spinner is sadly struggling to make ends meet.

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The fidget spinner craze is sweeping the world. On social media, every other post is inevitably a fidget spinner. Either a DIY tutorial for making one of those at home, or someone juggling multiple spinners, or a poodle balancing it on its nose, we see all of these, all across the web. And not just the physical ones, there are websites that let you fidget with the spinner on the browser as well. However, if you take a break from the fidgeting, have you ever thought who made the first fidget spinner? Who was the brain behind this toy? And how do we not know about them?

Who invented the fidget spinner?

Well, Florida-based Catherine Hettinger is the mind behind this ubiquitous new toy. While after the success of her invention, she should be enjoying the high life. In reality, Hettinger is struggling to even make ends meet. Envisioned some two decades ago, the creator sadly never made even a penny off her genius invention, despite the global sales of the gadget soaring into the tens of millions and suppliers struggling to meet massive demands.

Hettinger had long ago, created the fidget spinner to entertain her seven-year-old daughter. When she saw, she created something pretty interesting, she held the patent on finger spinners for eight years, but she has to surrender it in 2005 because she could not afford the $400 (£310) renewal fees.

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“Now, while the manufacturers and retailers who are selling the modern-day versions of the toy rack up huge profits, Hettinger, 62, is downsizing from her tiny house to a cheaper condo, wondering whether to get her disconnected telephone line reinstated, and figuring out how to afford ‘a car that truly works’,” reported The Guardian.

“It’s challenging, being an inventor. Only about 3 percent of inventions make any money. I’ve watched other inventors mortgage their houses and lose a lot. You take roommates, you get help from friends and family. It is hard,” she said.

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The origin of the fidget spinner

Hettinger says the origins of the spinner lie in “one horrible summer” back in the early 1990s when she was suffering from myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness, and was also caring for her daughter Sara, now 30. “I couldn’t pick up her toys or play with her much at all, so I started throwing things together with newspaper and tape then other stuff,” she said. “It wasn’t really even prototyping, it was some semblance of something, she’d start playing with it in a different way, I’d repurpose it.” After several redesigns, a basic, non-mechanical version of the spinner was born. “We kind of co-invented it – she could spin it and I could spin it, and that’s how it was designed,” she added.

Once she knew she had really made something, she spent the next few years exhibiting and selling upgraded versions of her design at arts and craft fairs around Florida. She says her project went well, with her actually managing to break even. In 1997, she flew to Washington DC for an appointment with the US patent and trademark office, and secured one.

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However, just when she thought it her invention would see some commercial success, the toy manufacturing giant Hasbro, who had been testing the design, decided not to proceed to production – effectively leaving the project to wither and eventually die with the lapse of the patent in 2005. ALSO READ: A Samsung Galaxy S8 wrapped under fidget spinners is dropped from a drone, because why not

Why the sudden boom in popularity?

While the original fidget spinner died many years ago, the resurrection of the toy has been a big question mark. Hettinger told The Money she wasn’t sure either why there has been a sudden boom in popularity of the fidget spinners, but she speculates the 2008 recession and the multiple anxiety issues that came with it as a potential reason. “That was always the concept — to help people,” she said. “I experienced it for myself.”

And given the device’s sudden popularity, Hettinger is working on a way to sell her original spinners, which have not been on the market throughout the current craze. She’s going to launch a Kickstarter project called the Classic Spinner soon, which she aims to sell online.

  • Published Date: May 30, 2017 2:41 PM IST