by Maggie Magnetic
You can’t fault the success of this toy, but I had mixed emotions about the Whee-lo my parents bought for my brothers and me when we were kids.
At the time, I wondered if they had put much thought into whether we’d like it, or if it was a budgetary decision.
For about a buck you could own a red, plastic wheel with a magnetized axle which, when placed on a two-pronged piece of curved wire in the shape of an elongated “J”, would spin toward the end of the shaped wire and back again as you tilted the wire. The magnetic “axle” held the wheel to the wire, and the wheel kept spinning from one end to the other as you tilted the mechanism back and forth.
Whoo-hoo! Sounds like fun, huh? I actually enjoyed mine…for about five minutes.
The Whee-lo was released to the public in 1953 by Maggie Magnetic, Inc. of New York. It was billed as, “Whee-lo – The Magnetic Walking Wheel”. Its inventor, Harvey Job Matusow, called the Whee-lo, “The Stringless Yo-Yo”, giving the same title to his autobiography. In 1957, you could get one for 79¢, complete with 6 colorful “Whee-let” attachments.
Packaging promotion indicated the Whee-lo was a great “contest toy, sick room toy and back seat toy.” Some say teachers touted it as good for illustrating scientific principles like kinetic energy, gravity, and rotational energy. The Whee-lo has been called addictive, timeless, straightforward, mesmerizing and hypnotic fun.
- Calling it The Stringless Yo-Yo is an insult to yo-yo’s. At least a yo-yo requires some skill, which gives one a sense of accomplishment after having attained even the most remedial yo-yo skills.
- Contest Toy. What contest? See who can make it spin the fastest? Uh-huh.
- Sick Room Toy. Watch the spinning wheel long enough and you’ll make yourself sick.
- Back Seat Toy. Are they serious? Accelerated car sick toy is a better description. Now the back seat becomes the sick room. Look out the window instead.
- Demonstration aid for the science teacher. Of course. Just what every kid wants when not in school – an adult teaching prop for scientific classroom lectures.
It’s been more than 50 years since its introduction and the Whee-lo, or some variation thereof, is still available for purchase today. Go ahead and buy one if you’re so inclined. Just keep the drool rag handy while you sit, mesmerized by the hypnotic fun of watching the wheel spin back and forth.
In his autobiography The Stringless Yo-Yo, Harvey Job Matusow claims to have invented the Whee-lo to raise money to pay his legal fees. In 1957, he was charged with lying to Congress during the McCarthy trials.