Fidget Spinners: A Brief History of the Global Phenomenon

06/20/2017 11:16 pm ET Updated Jun 21, 2017
Photograph by Max Salientes for Stealth Spinners. Used with permission.
© 2017 Max Salientes
Photograph by Max Salientes for Stealth Spinners. Used with permission.

Brian J. Roberts is a freelance writer who’s been featured in Forbes, Time, Inc., Entrepreneur, USA Today, CNBC, Huffington Post and others. Follow him here.

According to Google Trends, fidget spinners have been more popular than Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian combined. Yet, despite this tremendous popularity, the origin of the fidget spinner is unclear.

Snapshot of Google Trends
Snapshot of Google Trends

A New York Times story indicated that the fidget spinner started with a Florida inventor named Catherine Hettinger. However, a Bloomberg report refutes that claim, further muddying the waters as to who is really behind it. They've only recently become vastly prominent in the past year. But what are they? And what makes them so popular exactly?

Here’s the abbreviated version: a fidget spinner is a small hand toy that usually has a star-like shape and three weighted points. In the center of the spinner is a circle with ball bearings that allow the toy to spin with very little friction. You can place the spinner on a flat surface—or hold it in your hand—and flick one of the points to make it spin. The toy continues spinning for up to a minute before it begins to slow down.

I spoke with Max Salientes, founder of fidget spinner brand Stealth Spinners and monthly subscription-based fidget spinner club Spinner Box, to learn more.

Roberts: Max, can you give me an overview of the fidget spinner market?

Salientes: The most popular fidget spinner you see is the standard ABS plastic spinner – the standard everyday carry for elementary and middle school students all across the United States.

However, an increasingly large number of adults have begun to enter the high end of the market. As a result, the collectible side of the industry has really exploded in the past 6 months with over 500 different original designs being created.

There's an amazing Facebook community called Spin Space with over 20,000 different hobby enthusiasts. Most of them are avid collectors who are very helpful to people at all stages in collecting.

Mid-high end designs use expensive CNC (computer numerical controlled) drilling and lathe machines in a process called subtractive manufacturing. These fidget spinners resemble modern art more than a simple child's toy.

Every fidget spinner has it's own profile, weight, and distinct feel to it. Sometimes you'll be in the mood for a heavy spinner and other times, you'll want something light and small. This practical need for variety fuels an actual surge in demand for unique designs. This is why I started a monthly fidget spinner club.

Roberts: And why do you speculate fidget spinners have become so popular?

Salientes: We live in an world where technology has served as double edged sword for connectivity and interpersonal relations. It's easy to send a message instantly across the world, but even harder to connect in person.

There's so much to do now and everything is much faster paced. This causes increased levels of stress and anxiety for both adults and children. It's a new generation.

Fidget spinners provide a way to unplug from the rapid advances of the world and play with something predictable – the opposite of daily life in a sense. When you apply force on the edges of a fidget spinner, you are almost certain that you will get the desired result.

Human beings were meant to touch, feel, and hold things. All this technology increasing disconnects us from this world of physical touch. In an increasingly disconnected world, I believe these sensations create a cathartic effect that helps us refocus while simultaneously lowering our stress levels.

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