In 1943, Richard James, a naval mechanical engineer, sought to produce springs capable of stabilizing fragile ship equipment while at sea. He made prototypes of his idea and set them on a shelf. Then, one day, he accidentally knocked them over. He watched as they “slinked” off the shelf, onto a stack of books, down to a table, and came to rest upright on the floor in the fluid, graceful manner characteristic of the toy we know and love today. The helical spring traveled down steps by flipping over itself, stretching and recoiling with the help of gravity. James had a new invention on his hands: the Slinky.
James and his wife developed the wildly original novelty toy for $500 using a machine that coiled 80ft wire into a small spiral. The first Slinkys sold out within ninety minutes. The couple formed James Industries, manufacturing headquarters, in Pennsylvania. In those first two years, James Industries sold over 100 million toy springs. Slinky was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2000, and in 2002, Slinky was the named the official toy of Pennsylvania.
Slinkys remain a bestselling toy and have been adapted for different uses throughout history. As a teaching tool, the springs can simulate the behavior and properties of waves. During the Vietnam War, US troops modified the toy to serve as a mobile radio antenna. NASA has also used Slinky in physics experiments pertaining to zero gravity.
What if Richard James hadn’t been paying attention? What if he doubted the novelty of such a toy? Luckily, he invested time, research, and money in an idea he truly believed in. The Slinky has been climbing down stairs ever since!