Saturday, December 6, 2008

Slinky & Post-Its

I have fond memories of playing with and experimenting with my slinky when I was a kid. I made it walk down the stairs, do tricks, and fill endless amounts of time. So when I heard on NPR a few weeks back that Betty James, the woman who ran the Slinky company recently died, I decided that I just needed to blog a little about this amazing toy.

Betty James, who came up with the name Slinky for the stair-walking spring that has delighted children for more than 60 years and who ran the toy company after her husband, the inventor, left it and his family in 1960, died Thursday in Philadelphia. She was 90 and lived in Hollidaysburg, Pa., where the company, James Industries, is located. (Miami Herald)
"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.


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.

With all of this Slinky talk, I recently stumbled upon this video made my Eepy Bird about Post-It slinkies in the office. It was just too funny not to share with you.

Enjoy ~SJ

1 comment:

Weather Boy said...

I always hated how the metal Slinkies pulled the hair on my arms...yes, I've ALWAYS had hairy arms!

Another story on NPR mentioned that you could buy a gold-plated Slinky for $105 or something like that.