The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions

9. Slinky

Jacob Turcotte

Like James Wright (inventor of Silly Putty), engineer Richard James researched to aid American troops during World War II. In his home laboratory in Philadelphia, James attempted to invent springs that would support and stabilize sensitive instruments on naval ships during rough seas. One spring was knocked off the worktable and stepped its way down to the floor.

After James watched it re-coil itself and stand upright on the floor, a light bulb went off in his brain.  

James showed the stepping spring to his wife, Betty, and said he could make a children’s toy out of it. Because the Navy was unresponsive to the springs, James spent the next couple of years perfecting his toy idea. Betty came up with the name “Slinky” and the couple first demonstrated its toy at Gimbels Department Store in 1945. In just 90 minutes, they sold 400 Slinkys.

Within 50 years, James Industries sold more than a quarter of a billion Slinkys worldwide and the slinking toy is still finding its way into American pop culture.

The Slinky jingle is the longest-running song in advertisement history. It first aired in 1962:

What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound?
A spring, a spring, a marvelous 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 boy!

12 of 20
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.