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"Everyone knows it's Slinky."

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator

SLINKY

A Slinky is a precompressed helical spring toy invented by Richard James in the early 1940s. It can perform a number of tricks, including travelling down a flight of steps end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity and its own momentum, or appear to levitate for a period of time after it has been dropped. These interesting characteristics have contributed to its success as a toy in its home country of the United States, resulting in many popular toys with slinky components in a wide range of countries.

The Slinky was invented and developed by American naval engineer Richard T. James in 1943 and demonstrated at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia 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 Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania to manufacture Slinky and several related toys such as the Slinky Dog and Suzie, the Slinky Worm. In 1960, James's wife Betty James became president of James Industries, and, in 1964, moved the operation back to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1998, Betty James sold the company to Poof Products, Inc.

The Slinky was originally priced at $1, but many paid much more due to price increases of spring steel throughout the state of Pennsylvania; it has, however, remained modestly priced throughout its history as a result of Betty James' concern about the toy's affordability.

In 1943, Richard James (right), a naval mechanical engineer stationed at the William Cramp & Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring "stepped" in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright. James's 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.'" 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. She dubbed the toy Slinky (meaning "sleek and graceful"), after finding the word in a dictionary, and deciding that the word aptly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.

With a USD $500 loan, the couple formed James Industries (originally James Spring & Wire Company), had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop with 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel. They hand-wrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece. 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. In 1946, they introduced Slinky at the American Toy Fair.

Richard James opened shop in Albany, New York, after developing a machine that could produce a Slinky within seconds. The toy was packaged in a black-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, a pair of glasses that uses Slinkys over the eyeholes attached to plastic eyeballs. James Industries licensed the patent (US 2,415,012) to several other manufacturers including Wilkening Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia and Toronto which produced spring-centered toys such as Mr. Wiggle's Leap Frog and Mr. Wiggle's Cowboy. In its first 2 years, James Industries sold 100 million Slinkys.


In 1960 Richard James left his wife and his children to become an evangelical missionary in Bolivia with Wycliffe Bible Translators. James died of a heart attack in 1974 in Bolivia. Newly divorced with six children to look after and a company in trouble due to declining sales and Richard who had given company money to the Bible missionaries, Betty James took charge. She managed the company, juggled creditors, and in 1964 moved the company to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. The company and its product line expanded under Betty James’s leadership. In 1995, she explained the toy's success to the Associated Press by saying, "It's the simplicity of it."

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.

Early in the history of James Industries, Helen Herrick Malsed of Washington state sent the company a letter and drawings for developing Slinky pull-toys. The company liked her ideas, and Slinky Dog and Slinky Train were added to the company's product line. Slinky Dog, a small plastic dog whose front and rear ends were joined by a metal Slinky, debuted in 1952. Malsed 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.

In 1995 the Slinky Dog (voiced by Jim Varney and Blake Clarke) was redesigned for all of Pixar’s Toy Story movies. 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.

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

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

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Slinky Commercial 1962.

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The jingle for the Slinky television commercial was created in Columbia, South Carolina in 1962 with Johnny McCullough and Homer Fesperman writing the music and Charles Weagly penning the lyrics. It became the longest-running jingle in advertising history.

The jingle has itself been parodied and referenced in popular culture. It is seen in the "Log" commercial on The Ren & Stimpy Show and sung by actor Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. The song is also referenced in the movie Lords of Dogtown, where it is sung in full by Emile Hirsch, and is sung by Eddie Murphy as part of the final routine in the stand-up comedy film Eddie Murphy Raw.

Plastic Slinkys are also available. They can be made in different colors. Many of them are made with the colors of the rainbow in rainbow order. They were marketed in the 1970s as a safer alternative to metal slinkys as they did not present a hazard when inserted into electrical sockets. The plastic spring toy, known as the Plastic Slinky was invented by Donald James Reum Sr. of Master Mark Plastics in Albany, Minnesota. Reum came up with the idea as he was playing with different techniques to produce a spiral hose for watering plants. However, as it came off the assembly line, according to his children, it looked more like a "Slinky." He worked at it until it came out perfectly and then went to Betty James with his prototype. Reum manufactured the Plastic Slinky for Betty James for several years. Eventually Betty James decided to manufacture the product exclusively through James manufacturing, effectively ending the production of the toy by the small Minnesota company.

The Slinky has been used other than as a toy in the playroom.

Hgh school teachers and college professors have used Slinkys to simulate the properties of waves and NASA has used them in zero-gravity physics experiments in the Space Shuttle (above).

Slinkys and similar springs can be used to create a 'laser gun' like sound effect. 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. 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.

A Metal Slinky can be used as an antenna - it resonates between 7 and 8 MHz. During Vietnam war it was used as a portable antenna for local HF communication. This setup had many advantages over a long wire shot from M79 grenade launcher: small dimensions, fast and quiet installation, reusability, good takeoff angle for local communication and good enough performance. It was also used to extend range of a handheld radio.

In 1992, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, hosted an interactive traveling exhibit developed by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, 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.

Several online videos have shown the Slinky has been found to be act as an excellent squirrel deterrent for bird feeders when mounted on the pole of the bird feeder to prevent squirrels from climbing up the pole to reach the bird feeders.

In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a Slinky postage stamp. The Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000 in their Celebrate the Century stamp series. A bill to nominate the slinky as the state toy of Pennsylvania was introduced by Richard Geist in 2001 but not enacted. The same year, Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Association's Hall of Fame. 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.

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The rules that govern the mechanics of a slinky are Hooke's law and the effects of gravitation.

HOOKE'S LAW

Hooke’s law, law of elasticity discovered by the English scientist Robert Hooke in 1660, which states that, for relatively small deformations of an object, the displacement or size of the deformation is directly proportional to the deforming force or load. Under these conditions the object returns to its original shape and size upon removal of the load. Elastic behaviour of solids according to Hooke’s law can be explained by the fact that small displacements of their constituent molecules, atoms, or ions from normal positions is also proportional to the force that causes the displacement.

The deforming force may be applied to a solid by stretching, compressing, squeezing, bending, or twisting. Thus, a metal wire exhibits elastic behaviour according to Hooke’s law because the small increase in its length when stretched by an applied force doubles each time the force is doubled. Mathematically, Hooke’s law states that the applied force F equals a constant k times the displacement or change in length x, or F = kx. The value of k depends not only on the kind of elastic material under consideration but also on its dimensions and shape.

At relatively large values of applied force, the deformation of the elastic material is often larger than expected on the basis of Hooke’s law, even though the material remains elastic and returns to its original shape and size after removal of the force. Hooke’s law describes the elastic properties of materials only in the range in which the force and displacement are proportional. (See deformation and flow.) Sometimes Hooke’s law is formulated as F = -kx. In this expression F no longer means the applied force but rather means the equal and oppositely directed restoring force that causes elastic materials to return to their original dimensions.

Hooke’s law may also be expressed in terms of stress and strain. Stress is the force on unit areas within a material that develops as a result of the externally applied force. Strain is the relative deformation produced by stress. For relatively small stresses, stress is proportional to strain.

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