Monday, May 30, 2011

Richard and Betty James

Courtesy: Poof-Slinky

Previous Life:
Navy tool worker and homemaker

Big Break:
Saw a spring coil fall off a table

Bottom Line:
Called it a Slinky and sold 250 million of them

In 1943, Richard James was a navy tool worker in Philadelphia when he saw a torsion spring coil fall off a workshop table. Later at home, he considered turning the coil into a toy. Betty, his wife, found the term "Slinky" -- a Swedish word for sleek and sinuous in the dictionary. What followed were two years of testing various gauges of steel to find the perfect material and length.

By Christmas 1945, the new toy was ready for the market. The couple made 400 units, which they put on display at a Gimbel's Department Store for $1 each. Within an hour they were sold out.

With the proceeds, the coupled launched the James Spring and Wire Company, later renamed James Industries. Since then, more than 250 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide -- many still manufactured on the original production line.

In the late 1950s, Richard James nearly drove his once thriving business into bankruptcy by donating millions to a Bolivian religious cult that he left the company and his family to join in 1960. He died in obscurity 14 years later.

After her husband left, Betty continued to run the business, expanding its products to include plastic Slinkys, a Slinky dog, and fake glasses with Slinky extended eyeballs. In 2001, she was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.


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