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Slinky is a toy consisting of a helical spring that stretches and can bounce up and down. It can perform a number of tricks, including traveling down a flight of steps end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity and its own momentum.



The toy was invented and developed by naval engineer Richard James in the early 1940s and demonstrated at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in November 1945. The toy was a hit, selling its entire inventory of 400 units in ninety minutes. James and his wife Betty formed James Industries in Philadelphia to manufacture Slinky and several related toys such as the Slinky Dog and Suzie, the Slinky Worm. In 1960, James' wife Betty became president of James Industries, and, in 1964, moved the operation to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1998, Betty James sold the company to Poof Products, Inc.

Slinky was originally priced at $1, and has remained modestly priced throughout its history as a result of Betty James' concern about the toy's affordability for financially disadvantaged customers. Slinky has seen uses other than as a toy in the playroom: it has appeared in the classroom as a teaching tool, in wartime as a radio antenna, and in physics experiments with NASA. In 2002, Slinky became Pennsylvania's official state toy, and, in 2003, was named to the Toy Industry Association's "Century of Toys List". In its first 60 years Slinky has sold 300 million units.


Slinky (1946)

In 1943, Clay Watson, a United States Navy engineer stationed at the William Cramp and Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was working in his home laboratory with brother Richard Gedig James developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas.[1] James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring "stepped" in a series of arcs from the shelf, to a stack of books, to a tabletop, to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright.[2][3] James' wife Betty later recalled, "He came home and said, 'I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension, I could make it walk.'"[4] James experimented with different types of steel wire over the next year, and finally found a spring that would walk. Betty was dubious at first, but changed her mind after the toy was fine-tuned and neighborhood children expressed an excited interest in it.[3] She dubbed the toy Slinky (meaning "sleek and graceful"), after finding the word in a dictionary,[2][3] and deciding that the word aptly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.[5]

With a US$500 loan, the couple formed James Industries (originally James Spring & Wire Company), had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, handwrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece.[3] Each was 2 1/2" tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel.[6] The Jameses had difficulty selling Slinky to toy stores but, in November 1945, they were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy. Slinky was a hit, and the first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes.[3][6] In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair.

Subsequent developments

James opened shop in Philadelphia after developing a machine that could spit out a Slinky within seconds.[2][6] The toy was packaged in a red-lettered box, and advertising saturated America. James often appeared on television shows to promote Slinky. In 1952, the Slinky Dog debuted. Other Slinky toys introduced in the 1950s included the Slinky train Loco, the Slinky worm Suzie, and the Slinky Crazy Eyes. James Industries' main competitor was Wilkening Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia and Toronto which produced spring-centered toys such as Mr. Wiggle's Leap Frog and Mr. Wiggle's Cowboy.[6] In its first ten years, James Industries sold 100 million Slinkys.[3]

In 1960, Richard James left the company after his wife filed for divorce and he became an evangelical missionary in Bolivia.[7] Betty James managed the company, juggled creditors, and moved the company to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania in 1964. Richard James died in 1974. The company he founded and its product line expanded under Betty James' leadership.[3] In 1995, she explained the toy's success to the Associated Press by saying, "It's the simplicity of it."[8]

Betty James insisted upon keeping the original Slinky affordable. In 1996, when the price ranged from $1.89 to $2.69, she told The New York Times: “So many children can't have expensive toys, and I feel a real obligation to them. I'm appalled when I go Christmas shopping and $60 to $80 for a toy is nothing." In 2008, Slinkys cost $4 to $5, and Slinky Dogs about $20.[9]

In 1998, James Industries was sold to Poof Products, Inc. of Plymouth, Michigan, a manufacturer of foam sports balls.[3][9] Slinky continued production in Hollidaysburg.[3] In 2003, James Industries merged with Poof Products, Inc. to create Poof-Slinky, Inc.

Betty James died of congestive heart failure in November 2008, aged 90, after having served as president of James Industries from 1960 to 1998.[9] Over 300 million Slinkys have been sold between 1945 and 2005, and the original Slinky is still a bestseller.[3][6]

Other uses

High school teachers and college professors have used Slinky to demonstrate the properties of waves, United States troops in the Vietnam War used them as mobile radio antennas, and NASA has used them in zero-gravity physics experiments in the Space Shuttle.[2]

Slinkies and similar springs can be used to create 'laser gun' like sound effects.[10] This is done by holding up a slinky in the air and striking one end, resulting in a metallic tone which sharply lowers in pitch. This is due to the properties of the metal; higher frequencies travel faster than the lower ones, so as to the listener the high-pitched sound is heard first, then gets progressively lower.[citation needed] The effect can be amplified by attaching a plastic cup to one end of the Slinky.

In 1959, John Cage composed an avant garde work called Sounds of Venice scored for (among other things) a piano, a slab of marble and Venetian broom, a birdcage of canaries, and an amplified Slinky.[11]

In 1985 in conjunction with the Johnson Space Center and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Discovery astronauts created a video demonstrating how familiar toys behave in space. "It won't slink at all," Dr. M. Rhea Seddon said of Slinky, "It sort of droops." The video was prepared to stimulate interest in school children about the basic principles of physics and the phenomenon of weightlessness.[12]

In 1992, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii hosted an interactive traveling exhibit developed by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called "What Makes Music?" Among other things, visitors could examine what makes musical sound by creating waves on an eight-foot-long version of a Slinky toy.[13]

A toy was made in the 1980s called "crazy eyes." It is a pair of glasses that uses slinkies over the eyeholes attached to bloody-looking plastic eyeballs.

Slinky jingle

Homer Fesperman and Charles Weagley wrote the Slinky commercial jingle in 1962. It became the longest-running jingle in advertising history.

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 or a boy.
It's fun for a girl or a boy!"[3]

The jingle was parodied in the "Log" commercial on The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Slinky Dog

Early in the history of James Industries, Helen (Herrick) Malsed of the state of Washington sent the company a letter and drawings for developing Slinky pull-toys. The company liked her ideas with Slinky Dog and Slinky Train becoming additions to the company's product line. Slinky Dog debuted in 1952. Malsted received royalties of $60,000 to $70,000 annually for 17 years on her patent for the Slinky pull-toy idea, but never visited the plant.[14]

In 1995, the Slinky Dog was redesigned for Pixar's Toy Story. James Industries had discontinued their Slinky Dog a few years previously. Betty James approved of the new Slinky Dog, telling the press, "[The earlier Slinky Dog] wasn't nearly as cute as this one." The molds used in manufacturing the new toy created problems for James Industries so the plastic front and rear ends were manufactured in China with James Industries doing the assembly and packaging. The entire run of 825,000 redesigned Slinky Dogs sold out well before Christmas 1995.[15]

Plastic slinkies

Some plastic slinkies have been made. They can be made in different colors. Many of them are made with the colors of the rainbow in rainbow order.

Tangling of a slinky

Slinkies have the tendency to tangle. If they get tangled, the metal can be reversed. The best way to undo a tangled slinky is to start at the top and work your way through to the bottom.

Awards and honors

In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a Slinky postage stamp.[16] In 2001, House Bill No.1893 of the 2001 Session of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania made Slinky the Official State Toy of Pennsylvania. The same year, Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Association's Hall of Fame.[9] In 2003, Slinky was named to the Toy Industry Association's "Century of Toys List", a roll call of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the twentieth century.[17]


  1. ^ Hunter, Ron; Michael E. Waddell (2008). Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson. p. 22. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Inventor of the Week: The Slinky". MIT School of Engineering. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Walsh, Tim. (2005). Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780740755712. 62–65.
  4. ^ Przybys, John (March 01, 1998). "Novel Ideas". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  5. ^ Barnes, Julian E. (2001-01-28). "A Name, a Name, Destined for Fame". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Rich, Mark (2005). Warman's 101 Greatest Baby Boomer Toys. Iola, Wisconsin: KP Books. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-89689-220-4. 
  7. ^ Adams, Cecil, The Straight Dope "Did the inventor of the Slinky join a cult in Bolivia?",, retrieved June 2009 
  8. ^ "Betty James, who cofounded Slinky company, dies". Associated Press. KXMB-TV. 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  9. ^ a b c d Hevesi, Dennis. "Betty James, Who Named the Slinky Toy, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  10. ^ The Experimentals Episode 19, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  11. ^ Fetterman, William (1996). John Cage's Theatre Pieces. Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 3-7186-5642-6 (hbk); 3-7186-5643-4 (pbk). 
  12. ^ "Toy Time in Space". The New York Times. 1085-04-16. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  13. ^ "Honolulu Exhibit Makes Music". The New York Times. 1992-08-02. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  14. ^ McDowell, Edwin (1998-11-28). "Helen H. Malsed, 88, Creator of Slinky Toys". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  15. ^ Witchel, Alex (1996-02-21). "Talking Toys with Betty James; Persevering for Family and Slinky". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  16. ^ Sourcebook for Receptive and Expressive Language. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press. 2006. p. 106. ISBN 0-8143-3314-1. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  17. ^ Business Wire for Toy Industry Association (2003-01-21). "Toy Industry Association Announces Its Century of Toys List". Press release. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

A metal Slinky
See also slinky



Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:



Slinkys or Slinkies

Slinky (plural Slinkys or Slinkies)

  1. (trademark) A toy in the form of a loose metal (originally) or plastic spring that can be made to "walk" down stairs as its coils separate and close up.

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