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The Simple Patent That Conquered the World of Toys

After 70 years the Slinky just keeps on slinking on.

The iconic Slinky is both one of the best and worst toys of all time—best because the oversized spring will captivate the imagination any child in the world; worst because that captivation will last about five minutes and the toy will likely be discarded, never to be played with again. But I had one as a kid, and you probably did too, and after 70 years the Slinky just keeps on slinking on.


Priceonomics has the history of the ubiquitous gizmo, invented in 1943 by Richard James, (No, not that Richard James) who got the idea when he knocked over a box of odds and ends, and found himself amused by the gyration of a wobbling spring. James was a strange guy and despite making millions from his product, he gave away almost all of his assets to various evangelical religious sects, eventually fleeing to Bolivia to join a cult and leaving his wife Betty with the reins to the Slinky empire. Betty, who had actually named the toy in the first place, took the flagging organization and brought it back from the brink, giving the Slinky the second of its many lives, and eventually earning herself a place in the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

These pictures from the original Slinky patent filing are a blast from the past, delivering some interesting insight into the history of an incredibly simple toy that has managed to retain a place in the popular imagination for the better part of a century.

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