Twirlers, or as I Like to Call Them, Spinners

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christmas is over and depending on your schedule of clean up and New Year’s organization, all the tinsel, lights, and decorations will be headed for boxes and storage. It’s time to pack up Christmas 2015.

Among all of the ornaments, one of my absolute favorites, are these:

I first saw the spinner Christmas ornaments ten years ago on George and Carolyne’s Christmas tree. They were a family heirloom from when one of them was very young. According to C they had been passed down, ending up on her tree.  It would be difficult not to notice them. They were in perpetual motion, a delicate movement not quite twinkle, but more a tiny, gentle round and round and round carousel, peaceful and quiet that reflected light all around.

Here’s how that is accomplished.

Placing them just above one of the little incandescent light on your tree, electric current passes through that tiny wire of that tiny little Christmas light.  As the wire heats and glows and gives off light, the little bit of heat, rising into the tiny, enclosed carousel, causes the the very light spinner, sitting atop a tiny pin, to spin.

I was enamored. I liked everything about it. I liked the cleverness. I especially liked the physics of them and the wholeness. There was no need to add, replace or fix. No batteries. You just placed it where it was meant to be and it worked. And they were so very pretty.

I went home immediately, got out my laptop, and tried to buy some. The only place I could find them was  on Ebay. And I got outbid every time. Finally, in the middle of June, I won the bid on a set of four of them at an exorbitant price of which I was and remain ashamed.

What I couldn’t figure out is why, with all the extreme marketing, shopping choices with global internet, fascination for retro, the clear interest and cleverness of the ornaments, why they were so hard to find.  I knew that most of them for sale were vintage from the 1950’s but why in the world didn’t somebody start making them now?

I had visions of a whole tree full of these things.

Sometimes when something is curious and quite clever and has an inherent attractiveness to it, it’s worth looking into. Because it is possible there is a quite good story behind it. For Christmas spinner ornaments, this is true.

The story starts with a man name John Paul Garver. Born in 1929 on a farm in Ohio, he never became famous, at least the way we think of famous these days. He received a college degree in 1951, lived his entire life in Ohio, and became a committed teacher of science, chemistry, biology and driver education (more on this later). He was a religious man, a member of a Christian sect known as the Brethren who seek to live peacefully, simply and together.  Those things are part and parcel to who he was, but if you would really want to be succinct in describing Mr. Garver, my research tells me there are two words that one might use and it would be hard to know which would come first. He was an inventor and he was a teacher. His mind  and gift was constantly tuned to finding ways to try and solve problems. And with that, sharing it with anyone who came across his path. For instance…

He loved sports. He wrote a book on baseball cybernetics and before he died in March of 2015, he was  working on another book about the science of hitting. He invented baseball, football and tennis throwing machines, special baseball batting tees, a tennis racquet stringing machine, the first oversized tennis racquet, and the dual brake system for teaching driver’s training. (One might imagine the necessity of this invention if you were the person who instituted and then taught defensive driving to generations of high school students would provide the mother to this invention). His throwing machines were used by  several of the Major League Baseball and National Football League teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins as well as a multitude of colleges, universities and high schools. He loved to find ways to improve the performance of athletes in any sport so he worked with local students, including little league, girls softball and other high school teams. He himself was a top rated, devoted amateur tennis player. John ended up with more than 20 inventions, seven of which were patented.  He came by inventing naturally because  ‘farmers are inventors by necessity,’ he explained.

You’ve probably already guessed where this is going. It was John who invented and patented the spinner Christmas tree ornament in 1954.

In Garver’s own words, “It was a wheel with flair. It’s a simple cylinder with a spinner. The trick is to have a spinner that’s so sensitive that it picks up heat from a light or a hand.”

In 1954, Garver struck a deal with the Mahoning Valley-based Plakie Toy Co. to produce the ornaments, priced at 50 cents, an instant hit selling a 1000 in one day at the former Strouss’ department store in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. The next year, there were orders for 3 million and even more the following year, but a problem arose. Garver and others had been cutting the center pin by hand.“It’s just a common pin, but a machine was used and it dulled pins, and that was the difference as to whether it works or not,” Garver  told Ashley Luthern in an interview she conducted in 2011. The mistake ended the twirler ornament reign. The Plakie Toy Co. went out of business in the 1990s. The twirlers are now rare because they were manufactured only for a short time and because the heat from the lights that would make them twirl also melted the plastic, reducing the number of vintage ones you can find on Ebay.

I am wondering…

Alibaba, what are the odds you could find someone in this big, wide world to make a me a few of these twirlers. I’d give them to my friends. I’d share them with those who want one.

And Mr. Garver, I look forward to making your acquaintance in Heaven.  Thanks by the way. I’m thinking there might be some absolutely spectacular version of twirlers there and if Heaven favors earth in anyway, you are still using your  inventing talent. And I rather like that your invention, in helping me and mine to celebrate the birth of our Savior, because it makes me think that warmed by God’s love, we too were made to twirl in grace and peace-filled joy, forever.

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All the ideas, advice, and opinion six decades can provide… and maybe a little wisdom.

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for more, much more...

All the ideas, advice, and opinion six decades can provide… and maybe a little wisdom.