The fidget spinner is a toy that sits like a propeller on a person’s finger, with blades that spin around a bearing. Depending on your personal taste, watching the spinning motion is either mesmerizing or irritating. But even for those who don’t want to play with the spinners themselves, the gizmo's story provides a classic parable of the small-time inventor with the big idea who got cut out when the time came to cash in. This kind of narrative is reliably compelling even when—as in this case—it’s not really true.
Patent holders have to pay periodically to maintain their patents, and Hettinger let the spinning toy patent lapse in 2005. Over a decade later, in 2016, the current generation of finger-spinning toys became a hit. Aside from the spinning, these devices had little in common with Hettinger’s toy. They relied on a completely different mechanism for movement. Yet, when someone created a Wikipedia page for the fidget spinner this April, it described Hettinger as the inventor.