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History of the Slinky Toy

Richard James and Betty James invented the slinky in 1945.

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Toy Slinky Spring on black background, close up
Joseph Clark/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images
"What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, And makes a slinkity sound?
A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, Everyone knows it’s Slinky…
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun for a girl and a boy
- Advertising Jingle

In 1943, Richard James was a naval engineer trying to develop a meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships. Richard was working with tension springs when one of the springs fell to the ground. He saw how the spring kept moving after it hit the ground and an idea for a toy was born.

Traespiral

Richard James told his wife Betty, "I think I can make a toy out of this" and then spent the next two years figuring out the best steel gauge and coil to use for the toy. Betty James found a name for the new toy after discovering in the dictionary that the word "Slinky" is a Swedish word meaning traespiral - sleek or sinuous.

Slinky debuted at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1945 Christmas season and then at the 1946 American Toy Fair. Richard nervous at the first demonstration of his toy convinced a friend to attend and buy the first Slinky. However, this turned out to be unnecessary as 400 were sold during the 90 minute Gimbel demonstration.

James Spring & Wire Company

Richard James and Betty James founded James Spring & Wire Company (renamed James Industries) with $500 dollars and began production. Today, all Slinkys are made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed and engineered by Richard James. Each one is made from 80 feet of wire and over a quarter billion Slinkys have been sold worldwide.

Richard James - Cult Involvement

Around 1960, Richard James suffered from a mid-life crisis and left his wife, six children, and the Slinky Empire to join a Bolivian religious order/cult. Betty James took over as CEO of James Industries and rescued the company from the debts left by her husband's generosity to his religion. She moved the company to its current Hollidaysburg location from Philadelphia and began an active advertising campaign complete with the famous Slinky jingle. Richard James died in 1974.

Betty James Continues

Betty James also replaced the original material of blue-black Swedish steel with silver colored American metal. She added other toys to the line: Slinky Jr., Plastic Slinky, Slinky Dog, Slinky Pets, Crazy Eyes (glasses with Slinky-extended fake eyeballs) and Neon Slinky. The line was sold in 1998 to Poof Toys.

Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.

Continue > How A Slinky Works - Spring Physics

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