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Slinky

Posted by Big Boo on September 25th, 2008

Slinkies are wonderful things, aren’t they?  It’s amazing how such a simple thing as a length of bent metal can be fiddled and played with in so many ways.  Of course, the Slinky is by no means a product of the 1980’s, but I certainly remember playing with one that I inherited from my cousin when I was a child – that is until it got a kink in it and no longer worked properly. :-(

The Slinky was invented in 1943 by Richard James in Philadelphia. He was a US Naval engineer, and he got the idea for the toy when he saw a spring fall off a desk and bounce around on the floor.  He came up with a method for coiling strips of metal and made his first batch of 400 Slinkies which he took to a department store called Gimbels to sell.  Using nothing more than an inclined plane that first batch of Slinkies promptly sold out in just 90 minutes!  Since then millions of the toy have sold world wide.

These days to get round the problem of the metal being too easily bent Slinkies are manufactured out of plastic.  Having played with both at one time or another I believe the metal Slinky is still superior, as the plastic versions don’t seem to be quite so flexible and so come to a stop quicker.

Of course, everyone will be familiar with the usual use of a Slinky, giving it a tiny push at the top of a flight of stairs and watching it coil and uncoil its way down them, but as well as being great fun they are also a great educational toy with many scientific uses.  They can be used to demonstrate various types of wave propagation by pinching and releasing coils together or giving one end a slight wiggle.  They can also be used as a solenoid for creating a magnetic field (when you pass electricity down the sucker!) and as a radio antenna!

In 2001 the Slinky became the Official State Toy of Pennsylvania (didn’t realise US states had official toys, but there you go) and if you fancy getting hold of one to push down your stairs at home again then pay a visit to Seven Again, which is a particularly apt place to get one from as a Slinky features in their logo!