June 13, 2017

You’ve Seen Fidget Spinners Everywhere. Here’s How They Went Viral

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images via inc-asean.com


The fidget spinners trend took over the U.S. as some experience love: quickly, deeply, and very unexpectedly. And just like love, nobody can pinpoint exactly when it started.

The origins of the must-have toy of 2017 are dubious. Some publications like the New York Times, the Guardian and Time credit Catherine Hettinger as the inventor. Inc.com too authored a piece that ascribed the spinner’s invention to Hettinger. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-born woman filed for a patent of a “spinning toy” in 1993, which lapsed in 2005 because she couldn’t afford to pay the fees.
Recently, however, Bloomberg tasked two patent lawyers to examine Hettinger’s expired patent. According to their report, her invention has nothing in common with the fidget spinners you see (everywhere) today, which are typically three pronged and come in all different shapes and materials. If you look at Hettinger’s Kickstarter campaign for her “classic spinner,” you’ll notice that the prototype looks more like a hatted Frisbee than the toys tormenting teachers in U.S. classrooms.
That’s on purpose, she tells Inc. “The product that we have, I feel, is designed more for children, so I feel better about putting my name on that–the ‘Hettinger spinner’ or whatever and getting that out.” With 10 days to go, however, her campaign is still about $9,000 short of her goal.
Regardless of who actually invented the toy, the fidget spinner has spawned its own economy, which has grown exponentially in recent months. As such, it deserves some unraveling.
Spinners, by the numbers
On Amazon, there are roughly 8,284 sellers. On eBay and Alibaba, there are more than 3,300 vendors, offering about 600,000 spinners. The craze has even crossed the digital frontier, as fidget spinner apps creep up the top downloads charts.
Amid the $51 billion toy industry, the actual size of the fidget spinning market has been hard to judge. Most of its vendors are small and scattered. However, the ubiquity of the toy, which is supposedly used as a tool to promote concentration among children with Autism spectrum disorders, has been undeniable. Some estimates suggest that more than 200 million spinners have shipped to retailers.
Analysts like Jonah Koenigseker, a research associate at Euromonitor International, anticipate the white-hot toy will be down right glowing over the holidays. “Fidget spinners could be the top stocking stuffer in 2017,” he says.