Design Icon

Design Icon: The Slinky

by Maxwell Tielman


Design: Slinky

Designer: Richard T. James (1914-1974)

Date: 1943

Country of Origin:  United States

Manufacturer: James Industries (purchased by Poof Products in 1998)

Materials: Steel wire

Background: The Slinky’s origin came about rather serendipitously. Richard James was originally a naval engineer and had been experimenting with steel springs to be used in ships. Upon knocking one of his prototypes off of a shelf, though, he discovered that it could be made to “step” on its own. After a bit of tinkering and fine-tuning, the iconic Slinky was born. The toy was named by James’ wife, Betty, after she came upon the word (meaning “sleek and graceful”) in the dictionary.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

Suggested For You


  • This was a walk down memory lane. We played with metal Slinkies when I was a kid, and I made a point of hunting one down for my daughter (could find only two-toned plastic ones, but they worked, though the sound is different when they’re plastic). She loved it; occupied herself for hours. Fancy and complicated can be fun, but sometimes simple can be just as fun, and timeless.

  • Shout out to Philadelphia here, Richard James worked at Cramp’s shipyard along the river in Fishtown/Port Richmond. Pretty sure the building where the slinky was first “discovered” was recently torn down for I-95 expansion. Sad to see old buildings like that go!