KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The must-have toy of the year has emerged, and it is called the fidget spinner. And, Robert, I understand you are seeing one of these for the first time.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I am unwrapping it right now for the first time to see it.
SIEGEL: All right. I see it.
MCEVERS: OK. What does it look like?
SIEGEL: It consists of three circles. You know, it's - it fits in the palm of my hand, and they're - they form a triangle.
SIEGEL: There's a hole in the middle of each circle, and I guess I take the center of the spinner and I hold it between my fingers and then I - whoa - and I make it go around. And can you hear that?
(SOUNDBITE OF FIDGET SPINNING)
MCEVERS: Oh, yeah, I can.
SIEGEL: I - that's about it. You know, it just spins around.
MCEVERS: OK. Here's the thing you need to know about this toy - it is a phenomenon. Kids all over the country want one of these. And Kenny Malone from our Planet Money podcast is about to tell us how that happened.
SIEGEL: It's still spinning.
SIEGEL: It's still spinning.
KENNY MALONE, BYLINE: There's a street vendor in New York City named John Codrington.
JOHN CODRINGTON: They're called spinners.
MALONE: He was the first person I ever saw selling these fidget spinners.
CODRINGTON: We spin all day, and we spin at night.
MALONE: Can I look at one of those metal ones? Are those 10?
CODRINGTON: You can look at whatever you like.
MALONE: Codrington's table is teeming with customers today, but not long ago, he was less successfully trying to sell cologne, watches and sunglasses. But then he says he got a tip. There's this toy. It's called the fidget spinner.
CODRINGTON: A friend of mine was telling me about it before he told anybody, and he said it's going to be big.
MALONE: Like, how long ago was that?
CODRINGTON: Maybe about two weeks ago.
MALONE: And now Codrington is doing gangbusters. He says he hasn't seen a run like this since the selfie stick.
CODRINGTON: All we doing is riding the wave. We riding the wave.
MALONE: Unlike the Tickle Me Elmo doll or the Furby, the fidget spinner is a brand-less phenomenon that just seemed to happen overnight. And it may be showing us a new way to create a product, a meme-ification (ph) of manufacturing if you will, because just like an Internet meme spreads and morphs at a breakneck pace, so can manufacturing now. But that doesn't mean someone somewhere didn't make a first version of the thing.
SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.
MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn't really need to attend.
MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or...
MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?
MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.
MALONE: All right, all right.
To get through those meetings, McCoskery built what he believes is the first fidget spinner as we know them. It was about three years ago, and it was just for him. It was metal. It was beautiful. And then he shared pictures with an online community that takes particular pride in things you carry every day, like a wallet or a watch or a pocket knife. When he shared those pictures, he got flooded with requests, and so he started selling what he called the Torqbar.
How much were those going for originally?
MCCOSKERY: They were probably between $300 and $500.
MALONE: McCoskery partnered with a longtime friend to sell the spinners full time, and they filed for a provisional patent last year. It's too early to know what rights that will give them, but shortly after the Torqbar went online, other people started making and selling their own spinners, some machined from metal, others 3-D printed from plastic. And eventually, major retailers caught on to the trend.
RICHARD BARRY: We are getting them in as fast as we can and using the fastest mechanisms to get them here.
MALONE: Richard Barry is chief merchandising officer at Toys R Us Toys R Us put in orders for fidget spinners several months ago before the trend really took off. But now, they're doing everything they can to get those on shelves, even chartering planes.
It's like a scramble-the-jets moment for you guys.
BARRY: We have the jets, and they are in the air, and the products will be in the stores real soon.
MALONE: When the Tickle Me Elmo doll came out, people raced to stores like Toys R Us trying to get in on the hot new thing. With the fidget spinner, the trend is here. It started going viral on its own online. And so now the retailers are the ones racing to the trend. Toys R Us, for its part, says fidget spinners will be hitting their shelves this week. Kenny Malone, NPR News.