Beyond the simple answer to the question of who invented the Slinky, there is a story of the enduring popularity of a simple toy.
The Story of Who Invented the Slinky
Richard James was the man who invented the Slinky, although he had significant help from his wife in bringing the product to toy store shelves. In 1943, James was experimenting with springs as part of his job as a naval engineer. He hoped to use them to support shipboard instruments. However, while he was working, one of the springs fell to the ground in the stepping motion familiar to any child who has ever walked a Slinky down a set of stairs. Richard's wife, Betty, saw the spring's potential as a plaything and encouraged him to develop the toy. She also chose the name. Betty selected the word "slinky" from a dictionary, thinking that the meaning of stealthy and sleek fit the springy toy.
By 1945, the Slinky was ready for the world. It debuted in Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia with a stock of 400. The store sold out in 90 minutes. Richard and Betty James knew they had a hit and created James Industries to manufacture, market and distribute the product.
In the 1950s, the company added the Slinky Dog and the Slinky Train to its catalog. These toys joined the front and back of the dog or train with a spring. The Slinky Dog enjoyed a rebirth in the 1990s as a featured character in the movie Toy Story.
After Richard James left his wife, Betty ran the company from 1960 to 1998. James Industries maintained the success of its signature toy until it was sold to Poof Products, Inc. Currently operating under the name Poof-Slinky, Inc., the company continues to market the Original Slinky and related products.
Visit the official Slinky website for more information about the toy's history, including vintage commercials and advertisements.
The Slinky is still available in toy stores and there is little difference between the first design and the Slinky of today. The modern toy is recommended for ages five and up. The one change that was made to the original metal toy was crimping the ends of the wire to keep the toy safe for small fingers. Slinky also sells a colorful plastic version. There are many imitators, including rainbow plastic designs and even spring toys in different shapes. Even with this competition, Slinky is a constant fixture in toy stores, with more than 300 million sold worldwide.
Some of the spring toy's achievements include:
- The Slinky was used in space shuttle experiments in the 1980s.
- As part of the United States Postal Service's Celebrate the Century series, the toy appeared on its own stamp alongside such notables of the 1940s as Citizen Kane and big band music.
- The Slinky has been manufactured in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania since its early days. Honoring a homegrown plaything, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania named the Slinky the Official State Toy in 2001.
- In 2001, the Slinky was also inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame.
- In 2005, the company celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Slinky, but there are likely decades of success still to come.