Betty James, wife of Richard James, the naval engineer who invented the world-famous Slinky spring toy in 1945, has passed away at the age of 90. Her obit is in the New York Times. Mrs. James named the toy ‘Slinky’. The Slinky is one of the great toy invention success stories of the 20th century. In December 1945 Richard sold the first 400 Slinkys at Gimbels in Philadelphia in 90 minutes. Since then more 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide. Mrs. James took over as president of the business in 1960 when her husband abandoned the family and moved to Bolivia to join a religious cult. She served as president until 1998.
The patent (US2415012) on the Slinky is an excellent example of how vague patent descriptions can be. The title of the patent is ‘Toy and Process of Use’. The text describes the Slinky as a ‘helical spring toy,’ referring to its coil-like shape. The name Slinky does not appear at all, since the original application was filed on November 1, 1945, probably before Mrs. James had selected the name. Patent Office rules discourage inventors from including trademarks and product names in the applications. For such a simply object, the patent has a surprising number of very detailed claims, 19 in total. The specification includes the dimensions of the original design and a detailed discussion of the mechanics of springs. It would be a useful teaching example for first-year engineering students.
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I enjoyed reading this story about the inventor of the Slinky. NPR also aired a great story which I found posted at http://www.inventorinsights.com/NPR_Stories_Invention_Stories.html where you can also see a video of the classic “Slinky” commercial that many of us remember from the 1960s
I thought your comment about the “vagueness” of the patent was very interesting. Thank you for adding that.
After reading this, I was curious how much revenue Slinky generated over its patent life. $250 million. . . which I found at