Invented by naval engineer Richard James in 1943, and reaching the market in 1945, the Slinky® is one of those toys that went beyond fad and proved its staying power. At the time of the invention, James was working for the Cramp Shipyard in Philadelphia. In pursuit of a spring that would help steady ship instruments, he tested many models that differed in size, constituents, and tension. The failures were piled on a desk, and when one fell off, James observed for the first time the characteristic end-over-end movement that allows Slinkys® to walk downstairs. James’s wife Betty agreed that it had potential, and she was the one to come up with the name Slinky®.
Slinkys® were first sold in Philadephia at a Gimbel’s Department Store in 1945. The Jameses took 400 of the toys, each made of 63 feet (19.2 m) of wire curved into 98 stacked coils. and had sold them all within an hour and a half. By the early twentieth century, over 300,000,000 Slinkys® had been sold around the world.
James designed and built the machines to make the Slinky®, which were at first produced by James Industries, and now are sold by Slinky Brand Toys. Besides the initial Slinky® product, which is still sold, the company sells Slinky® spring toys made of plastic, Slinkys® Junior toys, Poof® toys made of foam, and Slinky® offshoots, such as a dog bank, jump ropes, pom-poms, batons, pinwheels, and Slinky® crazy eye glasses.
The Slinky Dog was one of the ensemble of stars in the movie Toy Story in 1995, and Slinkys® also appeared in Ace Ventura — When Nature Calls and Hairspray. In 1999, the United States Postal Service introduced a Slinky® stamp. And in 2001, the Slinky® was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame and made Pennsylvania’s official state toy. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Slinky® one of its 100 most treasured toys of the twentieth century.
A number of alternative uses have been found for the Slinky®. Welcomed in physics classes to demonstrate wave properties and other principles, Other reported uses include lighting fixtures, gutter protectors, coordination training, and as radio antennas.