1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Diabolo

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DIABOLO, a game played with a sort of top in the shape of two cones joined at their apices, which is spun, thrown, and caught by means of a cord strung to two sticks. The idea of the game appears originally to have come from China, where a top (Kouengen), made of two hollow pierced cylinders of metal or wood, joined by a rod—and often of immense size,—was made by rotation to hum with a loud noise, and was used by pedlars to attract customers. From China it was introduced by missionaries to Europe; and a form of the game, known as “the devil on two sticks,” appears to have been known in England towards the end of the 18th century, and Lord Macartney is credited with improvements in it. But its principal vogue was in France in 1812, where the top was called “le diable.” Amusing old prints exist (see Fry's Magazine, March and December 1907), depicting examples of the popular craze in France at the time. The diable of those days resembled a globular wooden dumb-bell with a short waist, and the sonorous hum when spinning—the bruit du diable—was a pronounced feature. At intervals during the century occasional attempts to revive the game of spinning a top of this sort on a string were made, but it was not till 1906 that the sensation of 1812 began to be repeated. A French engineer, Gustave Phillipart, discovering some old implements of the game, had experimented for some time with new forms of top with a view to bringing it again into popularity; and having devised the double-cone shape, and added a miniature bicycle tire of rubber round the rims of the two ends of the double-cone, with other improvements, he named it “diabolo.” The use of celluloid in preference to metal or wood as its material appears to have been due to a suggestion of Mr C. B. Fry, who was consulted by the inventor on the subject. The game of spinning, throwing and catching the diabolo was rapidly elaborated in various directions, both as an exercise of skill in doing tricks, and in “diabolo tennis” and other ways as an athletic pastime. From Paris, Ostend and the chief French seaside resorts, where it became popular in 1906, its vogue spread in 1907 so that in France and England it became the fashionable “rage” among both children and adults.

The mechanics of the diabolo were worked out by Professor C. V. Boys in the Proc. Phys. Soc. (London), Nov. 1907.