It's one of the simplest toys ever, but since its release in 1945 the slinky has remained a popular pastime for kids across the world. They never actually stopped slinking long enough to realise they were actually playing with a strip of metal. And this strip of metal - well coil or helix - can be found in most homes even today... usually tangled up at the bottom of the stairs.
We have naval engineer Richard James to thank for the slinky. It was while he tested tension springs for a suspension system that one of the springs escaped from his grasp and literally ran away from him. Bedazzled by the capability of a simple spring, he took it home with him and his wife went on to name their new toy, Slinky. Not long after, the slinky was released onto an unsuspecting public and schools of physics teachers eager to find new ways of engaging their pupils with new teaching tools, who altogether made it an instant success. It helped somewhat, that Christmas was approaching, too. In the first 90 minutes of sale, the entire inventory of 400 slinkys sold out at Gimbels department store in philadelphia where Richard had set up a stall!
The success was furthered when the slinky gained its very own catchy jingle used for all its advertising, which went like this:
"What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkyity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvellous thing! Everyone knows it's Slinky. It's Slinky, it's Slinky. For fun it's a wonderful toy. It's Slinky, it's Slinky. It's fun for a girl or a boy. It's fun for a girl or a boy!"
It also helped that no instructions - or batteries - were needed (the successful hula hoop also played on this fact). All you needed, really, was a flight of stairs to launch your slinky from. Then you could stand back and watch it very cooly descend, and hopefully not tangle before it reached the bottom. Add another slinky into the mix and you could race them! Of course, this inevitably ended in disaster, and once two slinkys got tangled together it was usually a one-way ticket to slinky heaven for the both of them.
Luckily, there are all kinds of new, slinkier slinkys to upgrade to, including Slinky Junior, Plastic Slinky in assorted rainbow colours and Slinky Pets (animals heads and feet with a slinky middle). Remember the Slinky Dog from Toy Story the film?
The slinky has now been named the official state toy of Pennsylvania, USA where its creator manufactured them, and its other claim to fame is being used by NASA for its experiments. To date, over 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide, but the original design remains the bestseller.