Fidget Spinners: An Introduction

Fidget spinners: even if you live under a rock, you've seen these around. They're being sold everywhere: gas stations, diners, and bodegas. Your nephew definitely has one. But where did they come from and why have they taken the world by storm? Amazingly, there's nothing new about fidget spinners. In fact, they've been around since at least 1993, when Catherine Hettinger, a chemical engineer, was suffering from an autoimmune disorder which caused pain in her limbs. Hettinger, along with her daughter, looking for ways to alleviate the pain in her hand, created what would one day be called a fidget spinner. Most people assume that she's now living the high life, what with how popular these toys have become. However, that's not the case; any manufacturer can make a fidget spinner today. 

In 1993 when Hettinger first put a patent on her new invention, she tried hard to market the toy, which along with being extremely effective at alleviating her pain, could possibly have many "off-label" uses. But Hettinger didn't have the money to market and mass produce the toys herself. She pitched the toy to many manufacturers, including Hasbro. Unfortunately, her idea never took off and Hasbro decided not to pursue it further. When the time came to renew her patent in 2005, she simply didn't have the money to do it. "I just didn’t have the money. It’s very simple,” she said, in an interview with The Guardian. She let the patent lapse, and ultimately the fidget spinner died, until it came back to life in 2017. 

Unfortunately, it's very hard to pinpoint why exactly the fidget spinner came back from the dead. One has to assume that since Hettinger didn't share her prototype with others, that the idea was probably around since even before Hettinger in one form or another. Regardless, like many other global crazes like Flappy Bird and Pokemon Go, the fidget spinner becoming popular again is somehow both mind boggling and also understandable. The rise of social media, the increased rates of amateur Youtube videos, and the "share everything that is even remotely worthwhile" culture that we live in is probably to blame. 

Whether you have a fidget spinner or not, the urge to judge comes on strong when it comes to useless machines like these. After all, as a society, didn't we also ridicule kids playing Pokemon Go? Of course, we only made fun of it after it had already become old and we had stopped playing ourselves. But these useless machines may not be as useless as they may seem. Hettinger, in her infinite wisdom, was right that they may have far reaching uses. Ask a friend that has a fidget spinner and they'll tell you that regardless of the reason they first bought it, it is pretty relaxing. There's just something about a spinning piece of junk that is relaxing to the soul. 

And whether you choose to partake or not, judging is probably the last thing we should be doing. If there's anyone that should really be irate about the whole fad, it's Hettinger. I don't know about you, but if I didn't have $400 to pay for a patent extension in 2005, and had now missed out on the millions that fidget spinners are raking in only thirteen years later, I'd be upset, to say the least. If Hettinger is okay with fidget spinners, we should probably be okay with them too. If they help you out with anxiety, pain, or any other legitimate condition, that's fantastic. If you think they're incredibly irritating and a waste of time, at least you're not Catherine Hettinger.