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The History of the Slinky

The History of Katy Spring

The history of companies is built by many short stories; some boring, some not. We’re going to try and tell the not-so-boring ones (in our humble opinion) about Katy Spring & Mfg., Inc.; a company in Katy Texas that started with a conversation that ended something like this; “Why not.”

These are the stories about Katy Spring, small bits of a bigger story that started in 1999. The stories are still unfolding new chapters every day, thanks to our wonderful customers. It’s written for our customers and future customers so that they can get to know our company, our employees, some historical background and philosophy a little better.

The stories are not told in chronological order. This blog is more of a “Readers Digest” about Katy Spring, written in whatever random order they appear. So without further ado, let’s get started with the next read which is titled; “The History of the Slinky”

A Slinky is a pre-compressed, toy helical spring invented by Richard James in the early 1940s. It can perform a number of tricks, including traveling down a flight of steps end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity and its own momentum, or appear to levitate for a period of time after it has been dropped. These interesting characteristics have contributed to its success as a toy in its home country of the United States.

The Slinky was originally demonstrated at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia in November 1945. The toy was a hit, selling its entire inventory of 400 units in ninety minutes. James and his wife Betty formed James Industries in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania to manufacture Slinky and several related toys such as the Slinky Dog and Suzie, the Slinky Worm. In 1960, James’s wife Betty became president of James Industries, and, in 1964, moved the operation back to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1998, Betty James sold the company to Poof Products, Inc.

Slinky was originally priced at $1, but many paid much more due to price increases of spring steel throughout the state of Pennsylvania; it has, however, remained modestly priced throughout its history as a result of Betty James’ concern about the toy’s affordability for poor customers. Slinky has been used other than as a toy in the playroom: it has appeared in the classroom as a teaching tool, in wartime as a radio antenna, and in physics experiments with NASA. Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, in 2000. In 2002.

Slinky (1946)

In 1943, Richard James, a naval mechanical engineer stationed at the William Cramp and Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas.[2][3] James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring “stepped” in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright.[4][5] James’s wife Betty later recalled, “He came home and said, ‘I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension; I could make it walk.'”[6] James experimented with different types of steel wire over the next year, and finally found a spring that would walk. Betty was dubious at first, but changed her mind after the toy was fine-tuned and neighborhood children expressed an excited interest in it.[5] She dubbed the toy Slinky (meaning “sleek and graceful”), after finding the word in a dictionary,[4][5] and deciding that the word aptly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.[7]

With a US$500 loan, the couple formed James Industries (originally James Spring & Wire Company), had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, hand-wrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece.[5] Each was 2 1?2″ tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel.[8] The James’ had difficulty selling Slinky to toy stores but, in November 1945, they were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy. Slinky was a hit, and the first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes.[5][8] In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair.

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