City Cast

How Philadelphia Invented The Slinky

Brittany Valentine
Brittany Valentine
Posted on August 29   |   Updated on August 30
pink background with a neon, multi-colored slinky

The Slinky is a great example of how some of the best things are created accidentally! (MirageC/Getty Images)

The Slinky is one of the most popular American toys. Here’s the story of how Philly manifested this cultural phenomenon.

In 1943, mechanical engineer Richard James was working at a shipyard in Kensington, testing tensions springs that would stabilize sensitive instruments on ships.

One day, James accidentally knocked a box of spare parts off his desk, and watched in amusement as a loose spring “walked” down a series of books, a tabletop, and finally to the floor. Inspired, James spent the next two years perfecting the design.

In 1945, Gimbels Department Store let James demonstrate the Slinky’s moves for customers, and it quickly became a hit. Priced at just $1, he sold all 400 of them within an hour and a half.

James invented the slinky, but it was his wife Betty, who named it, developed the well-known advertising jingle, and ultimately made the company a success.

In 1960, the Slinky company was struggling with debt, and James left his family to join an evangelical group in Bolivia, leaving Betty with a company on the verge of bankruptcy.

Betty didn’t give up. She took out a mortgage on her house and attended a New York toy show in 1963. Once again, orders began rushing in. To date, more than 300 million Slinkies have been sold.

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