Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Autumn from Rosemount, MN. Autumn Wonders, “How was the Slinky made?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Autumn!
Do you get excited when it's time to go to the store? If you're like many kids, you probably head straight for the toy aisle with the hope that you'll be able to convince an adult to let you come home with something new to play with.
If you compare the toys your parents played with to what's popular today, you'll likely notice that many toys have become much more complex over the years. Still, some of the most popular toys of all time have become enduring favorites because of their simplicity. A good example: the Slinky!
Most kids have played with a Slinky toy at one time or another. You may even have one or more Slinky toys at home in your toy box! They're so much fun to start at the top of a staircase and watch them "walk" down the stairs all on their own.
But what is a Slinky? It's basically just a metal spring! In fact, it wasn't even invented as a toy. It was a fortunate accident that occurred in 1943 when an engineer was trying to design a new tension spring that would keep electronic equipment secure aboard U.S. Navy ships during World War II.
That engineer was named Richard James, and he accidentally knocked a spring he was working on off his worktable. It fell to the floor and began "walking" across the floor. He realized that something as simple as a spring could be a toy.
He began experimenting with different types of wire with a variety of tensions, thicknesses, and lengths. Finally, in 1945, he settled on what he thought was the perfect combination: 80 feet of steel wire coiled into a two-inch helical spring. The Slinky was born!
He and his wife, Betty James, took out a $500 loan to start James Industries and began manufacturing the Slinky. Betty actually came up with the name when she searched the dictionary and came across the term, which means sinuous and graceful.
Initially, sales were slow, but that all changed in November 1945 when the Gimbels department store in Philadelphia allowed James to demonstrate to Christmas shoppers how the Slinky worked. After his demonstration, he sold all 400 Slinkys he had brought to the store that day in an hour and a half.
By the 1950s, the Slinky was a national sensation. The fame that followed the toy got to Richard James. In 1960, he left his family to move to Bolivia to join a religious cult. Betty took over the leadership of the company and built a factory in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
Under Betty's leadership, the Slinky continued its popularity. She added new products, such as Slinky trains and Slinky animals. Slinky Dog became very successful after appearing in the 1995 movie Toy Story.
While Slinky was always a popular toy, people found other uses for Slinkys. In the Vietnam War, soldiers discovered that a Slinky could be attached to a radio and thrown over a tree branch to create an effective antenna. You might also find Slinkys attached to bird feeders to protect them from pesky squirrels.
The Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000. When Betty James died in 2008, over 250 million Slinkys had been sold over the past 60 years. That's enough Slinkys to circle Earth over 150 times!