Just What Is a “Fidget Spinner” Anyway?

If you’ve got kids, you’ve probably been bisieged by requests for one. If you are a kid, you’re probably obsessed with getting one. Of maybe you have one already–but if you did, you probably wouldn’t be reading this because you’re hooked. Here’s a look inside the world of fidget spinners, the hottest fad of the year.

What is a Fidget Spinner

It’s sort of like a high-tech, next generation stress ball. A fidget spinner is a handheld, two-or-three-pronged metal toy that spins on an axis in the middle when pushed with a finger. By spinning it around while in school or doing work, it’s been said to help alleviate stress or release nervous energy. With all of that “fidgeting” both mental and physical occupied by the fidget spinner, some experts say (although research is scant) it allows users to focus on the task at hand.

It’s the hot toy of 2017…but the fidget spinner was invented way back in 1993. Chemical engineer Catherine Hettinger filed a patent for a “spinning toy” in 1993. Her inspiration was witnessing children in Israel throw rocks at police officers and she wanted to create something that could help frustrated kids channel or release their energy. The actual design of the toy came when, due to a medical condition that causes muscle weakness that left her unable to play with her young daughter as much as she wanted, Hettinger used “newspaper and tape” to build a toy. She then started selling primitive versions at arts and crafts fairs. Hettinger then partnered with Hasbro to mass-market the toy, but after a test-marketing of the fidget spinner failed, they dropped the deal and the patent lapsed in 2005.

Another inventor named Scott McCoskery also claims to have invented the fidget spinner. In 2014, he made a spinning toy out of metal to deal with a wandering mind during conference calls and meetings at work. He sold his concoction online, which he called the Torqbar.

Many different manufacturing companies other than the one McCoskery used caught on and started making their own unauthorized fidget spinners. McCoskery filed a provisional patent in 2016, just before the craze hit big. That led to a glut of fidget spinners on the market. Earlier this year, Amazon.com’s ranking of the top 50 bestselling toys included 43 different fidget spinners.

Ironically, hundreds of schools have now banned fidget spinners from the classroom—arguing that they’re much more of a distraction than a focus-concentrator.