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.
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.
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
Jamess 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
cant have expensive toys, and I feel a real obligation to them.
Im 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
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 Pixars 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 wasnt 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.
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
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
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
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.
The rules that govern the
mechanics of a slinky are Hooke's law and the effects of gravitation.
Hookes 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 Hookes 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
Hookes law because the small increase in its length when
stretched by an applied force doubles each time the force is doubled.
Mathematically, Hookes 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 Hookes law, even though the material
remains elastic and returns to its original shape and size after
removal of the force. Hookes law describes the elastic
properties of materials only in the range in which the force and
displacement are proportional. (See deformation and flow.) Sometimes
Hookes 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.
Hookes 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.