History of the Slinky

Which children's toy can be described as, "a pre-compressed, helical spring?"

And the answer: the slinky.

Photo courtesy: Fox Photos / Getty Images. 

Invented by Richard T. James, the Slinky made its debut in 1945 at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia. By the end of the 20th century, more than 250 million Slinkys had been sold worldwide.

This iconic toy has an origin story unique in its own right: the Slinky exists today because of a simple accident. While mechanic Richard James was designing an apparatus to stabilize maritime instruments for the U.S. Navy, he knocked a box of spare parts off the shelf. Among them was a coiled piece of wire, which seemed to miraculously "step" down from his desk to the ground. As inventors often do, James had a quintessential following thought: "I should make a children's toy out of this."

In the two years that followed, James perfected the toy. With help from his wife Betty, who is said to have flipped through a dictionary to land on the name "Slinky," the product hit the shelves with little ado. After an unsuccessful few weeks, James took the matter into his own hands. The inventor staged a demonstration of the toy's ability to "walk," and presto! Within the first 90 minutes of his demo, he had sold 400 Slinkys. By the end of the 1945 holiday season, customers had snatched up nearly 20,000 Slinkys for a dollar each. The toy quickly inserted itself into the hearts of the American people.

When the Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000, more than 250 million had been sold to date. It remains a popular and well-loved toy for children across the world. Check out this Smithsonian article to read more.

And now, a joke:

When is the best time to wash a stinky Slinky?

And the answer: Spring cleaning!


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