What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkety sound? If you were a child with a television in the second half of the twentieth century, you don’t need me to tell you.

Some toys are invented by accident. Some toys are the product of military research. Some toys are created to fill a void in society. And some toys are existing items that were re-purposed for our own entertainment. For Slinky, it can be argued that all of these are true.

In the midst of World War II, naval mechanical engineer Richard James was working on a method of stabilizing equipment during high seas when he knocked a spring off of a shelf only to watch it gracefully walk down some shelves, books, to a tabletop, and down to the floor. After describing the incident to his wife Betty, Richard spent his free time over the next year trying to recreate and perfect a spring that could do this consistently. Try explaining that to your neighbors.

Something tells me that the train doesn't handle the stairs very well.

Betty was skeptical at first, but after seeing the excited reaction it elicited from the neighborhood children, she knew that they were on to something. Betty named it “Slinky” after it’s sleek and graceful movements, but also as a description of the sound it make when it’s doing what Slinkys do best.

Richard and Betty initially had four hundred Slinkys made. They had a little bit of trouble getting toy stores to take them seriously, but after a live demonstration in November of 1945 at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia, they sold the remainder of their stock in ninety minutes. In 1946, the Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair, and it just took off from there.

Besides being a classic toy, the Slinky has grown with us over the years. Professors used it in colleges to explain the properties of waves. Like so many of our fine young men and women, Slinky was often called into service during the Vietnam War to serve as a radio antennae. NASA studied it in zero-gravity physics experiments (by the way, I understand that the Slinky is significantly less exciting in zero-gravity. Use your imagination).

The Slinky is still made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on the same equipment that Richard made himself. As a rule, it has always remained an intentionally affordable toy. In a 1995 interview with the New York Times, Betty was quoted saying, “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 2001, Slinky was named the Official State Toy of Pennsylvania. With that badge of honor, Slinky has secured its place in American pop culture. For fun, it’s a wonderful toy.

Slinky

 
 


I believe that this was the classic commercial that I was subjected to as a child. The slinky has been a beloved toy for over 60 years, but let me point out that this 30 second commercial shows pretty much everything you can do with a Slinky.

By the way, I’d kill a drifter for a pair of pants like the ones that kid’s wearing.