The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation
This book, written and illustrated by Gilbert Ford, is a delightful telling of how Richard James was inspired to create the Slinky toy. A mechanical engineer tasked with finding a way to cushion delicate machines aboard US Navy ships, he was surrounded by a variety of springs. One day, a spring tumbled from the shelf and walked itself down the desk to the floor. He knew right away that he had something special. When he took the spring home to show his wife, his son let it go from the top of the steps. The magical walking spring did it again – all the way down the family’s stairs.
Aha! They have a toy on their hands! Hmm… what they needed next was a name. Richard’s wife, Betty, spent two days looking through the dictionary until she came across the perfect word. Slinky.
Slinky: (adjective) graceful and curvy in movement
(I love that she read through the dictionary to find just the right word. Peter Roget would agree that it’s important to find just right word. Read about Peter’s Book of Words here.)
The James’ took out a five hundred dollar loan in order to produce four hundred slinkys which they planned to sell for one dollar each. Initial reception by stores was a flop but finally Richard convinced a department store to let him give a demonstration of the toy in front of shoppers. They sold out in ninety minutes!
As Slinky demand grew, Richard designed a machine that could coil a slinky in just ten seconds. Betty handled orders. Eventually the business became too big to run out of their home so they opened a factory and hired twenty people.
Slinkys are still popular today. The toy was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000 and was named to the Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys List” in 2003. In 2000, Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Association’s Hall of Fame for her tireless devotion to the toy and to the company. (Read more about Betty’s dedication to the toy and a new historical marker honoring Betty that has been placed in Slinky’s hometown in this article.)
A dreamer and a planner together created a timeless toy out of a simple spring.
Don’t you find this to be true in life? It’s not enough to have a vision. For an idea to truly make an impact, it will often require much work and planning behind the scenes to reach full potential.
How the Illustrations Were Made
The illustrations are fun combination of paper and other 3-D objects combined into diorama scenes. I love that he used objects found in a vintage shop and his grandmother’s basement to create the illustrations. I, too, like to use toys and small models when photographing books for this blog.
Watch this video of Gilbert Ford as he walks us through his illustration process.
How the Slinky is Made
See the slinky factory in action and watch carefully to see the slinky walk itself down and through a chute to be boxed.
Not just for fun… slinkys can also be used to teach physics!
What happens when you drop an extended slinky? Does the top fall first? Does it fall together? Do the ends move towards each other simultaneously in midair before it starts to fall?
The answers can be found in the physics of compression waves and gravity.
So what do you think?
Let’s watch the next video to see what happened.
Whoa! So cool!
(I admit I tried it myself while I had the slinky out to take pictures.)
Slinky has even gone to space with NASA to further demonstrate effects of gravity (or the lack of gravity in this case!).
Here’s a video showing how a slinky acts in zero gravity.
Other uses for slinky
During the Vietnam War, slinkys were reportedly adapted to use as radio antenna and are used by other short-wave radio operators today.
Some people have also used slinkys as a deterrent to keep squirrels out of their birdfeeders.
A famous jingle
The Slinky commercial jingle was written in 1962 and is the longest running jingle in advertising history.
Check out this 1960’s commercial for Slinky. Can you sing along? At the very end, they mention pull-toys. Just like Slinky Dog from Toy Story!!! (The original slinky dog toy debuted in 1952.)
World’s Largest Slinky!
This behemoth currently resides at the American Treasure Tour Museum in the Philadelphia area. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the endless treasures in this former factory space. Slinky gets some camera time about two minutes into the video.
If you’re a fan of the American Pickers show, you would probably love this museum!
Amazing. But also just fun!
Here’s a great compilation video of some amazing Slinky tricks. So mesmerizing. I could watch all day!
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