Like many of the best and most original toys, Slinky came about by accident. In 1945, naval engineer Richard James was working on a suspension system with tension springs, when one of the springs suddenly fell and ‘walked’.
James brought the newfound ‘toy’ home to his family, and his wife Betty dubbed it “Slinky” after a search through the dictionary.
Further experiments with materials and tension led to the perfection of the toy, and around Christmas 1945, the Slinky made its debut at Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All 400 sold out in less than two hours, and a new toy legend was born.
The Slinky was simple to use, but that was half its charm. A push on the coiled Slinky at the top of a staircase or incline would send it ‘walking’ down the stairs.
Rhythmic jiggling of the Slinky in your hands was strangely mesmerising, watching that compressed part of the coil slide back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. A few enterprising youngsters made up Slinky games or had Slinky races, but these were just icing on the Slinky cake.
Slinky was an instant success, but its popularity boomed with the debut of the unforgettable Slinky TV commercial in the 1960s.
Simple displays of the Slinky’s powers were coupled with an equally simple jingle, whose lyrics have become a pop culture institution: “What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvellous thing” etc.etc. (you all know the words).
James Industries (which Betty ran after Richard’s death) has continued to bring out new variations on the Slinky theme – Slinky Jr., Plastic Slinky, Slinky Dog, Slinky Pets, Crazy Eyes (glasses with Slinky-extended fake eyeballs), Neon Slinky and so on – but the original Slinky has remained almost totally unchanged in over 50 years in the business. The ends were eventually folded over for added safety, but that’s about it.
Really, there wasn’t anything else Slinky needed. We love it for what it is – no paint, no personality, no gimmicks, just 80 feet of coiled spring and endless hours of childhood memories.