Sunday, November 23, 2008

Deceased--Betty James

Betty James
February 13th, 1918 to November 20th, 2008

Steel compressed: 2 3/8 x diam. 2 7/8" (6 x 7.3 cm)
Manufactured by James Spring & Wire Company; later James Industries
Poof Toys, USA
Betty James [1918-2008] and Richard James [1914-1975]

In 1943, Richard James, his assistant Coleman Barber, a US marine engineer stationed at the Cramp shipyards in Philadelphia, and half brother Dylan Gedig, a Canadian engineer, observed a torsion spring fall off a table and roll around on the deck (a torsion spring has no compression or tension). He told his wife: "I think there could be a toy in this." With a $500 loan, the three men ran tests, experimented with materials, and produced four hundred units of the toy. Betty James did some dictionary searching and came up with the name "Slinky". In November 1945, Richard and Betty James, through an arrangement with Gimbels in Philadelphia, were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy department and demonstrate the spring's battery-less "walking" abilities. In 1948 they built a factory for James Industries' twenty employees in suburban Philadelphia, and a decade later, headquarters were set up in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where the factory remained for thirty years.

A cheap toy loaded with physics.

ca. 1960s Commercial

"Betty James, who co-founded Slinky company, dies"

November 22nd, 2008

The Associated Press

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. – Betty James, who co-founded the company that made the Slinky and beat the odds as a single mother in the late 1950s to become a successful executive, has died. She was 90.

She died Thursday, said a spokeswoman for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In 1945, James and her husband at the time, Richard, founded the company that would later make Slinky, the toy for which she was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.

She took over management of James Industries Inc. 14 years after the company was founded, after her husband left her to follow a religious cult in Bolivia. Richard James died in 1974.

Initially, James would leave her six children with a caregiver from Sunday through Thursday while she oversaw operations in Philadelphia. But in 1965, she moved the company to her hometown of Hollidaysburg, where although it was sold in 1998 to Michigan-based POOF Products Inc., it remains today.

"She was an icon in the community because of that business," Blair County Commissioner Diane Meling said. "What kid didn't grow up with a Slinky?"

Hundreds of millions of Slinkys have been sold worldwide. James explained the classic toy's success in a 1995 interview with The Associated Press.

"I think really it's the simplicity of it," she said. "There's nothing to wind up; it doesn't take batteries. I think also the price helps. More children can play with it than a $40 or $60 toy."

"Betty James dies at 90; namer of Slinky kept the toy brand alive"

She saved the business after her husband left her, and expanded the line to include Slinky Jr., plastic and neon-colored versions and the Slinky Dog, among other products


Valerie J. Nelson

November 24th, 2008

Los Angeles Times

Betty James, who named the toy her husband invented -- the Slinky -- and rebuilt the toy company he abandoned, making the springy plaything a pervasive part of American culture, has died. She was 90.

James, who served as chief executive of the family-run business for almost 40 years, died Thursday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, a hospital spokeswoman said. No cause of death was given.

In 1943, Richard James was a Navy engineer trying to figure out a way to stabilize instruments on ships at sea when a spring fell off a shelf. He watched it bounce end over end and went home to tell his wife, Betty, he thought he could make it into a toy that "walks."

When he asked her to name it, she turned to the dictionary and found "slinky," which means stealthy, sleek and sinuous.

Richard James tinkered with different types of steel and tension before debuting the coiled Slinky at a Gimbels department store on a snowy day in 1945 in Philadelphia.

"A Slinky just sitting there isn't very exciting. It has to move," Betty James told in 2001. "It if hadn't been for Gimbels giving us the end of a counter to demonstrate, I don't know what would have happened."

The couple sold 400 of the toys in 90 minutes for $1 apiece.

The same year they introduced the Slinky, they borrowed $500 to form a company that was eventually known as James Industries to mass-produce the toy in the Philadelphia area.

By the late 1950s, the couple had a 12-acre estate near Bryn Mawr, Pa., but Richard James seemed uncomfortable with material success, according to biographical references.

He left his family in 1960 to join a religious cult in Bolivia and died there in 1974. He left behind six children between the ages of 2 and 18 and a business in shambles.

"These religious people always had their hands out. He had given so much away that I was almost bankrupt," Betty James said in 1996 in the Austin, Texas, American-Statesman.

She later recalled 1961 as her toughest year: She moved her children near her hometown of Altoona, Pa., and made a 450-mile weekly round-trip commute to the factory while a caregiver stayed with her children Monday through Thursday.

By 1965, she had moved the Slinky plant to Hollidaysburg, near her home, where it remains today.

Using a mortgage taken out on her house, James "gambled everything she had" and went to a New York toy show in 1963 -- and orders once again came pouring in, said her son, Tom James, in 2005 in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

More than 300 million Slinkys have been sold, according to a company history. The toys now sell for about $4 to $5.

James also was credited with expanding the Slinky line to include the Slinky Jr., plastic and neon-colored versions, the Slinky Dog -- made newly popular by 1995's "Toy Story" -- and Slinky Pets, among other products.

The "grzzzzzink" sound that the rolled-steel Slinky makes while in motion is but one aural memory of childhood for many baby boomers and their offspring.

The other is the catchy commercial jingle, which debuted on television in 1963 and includes this refrain:

Ev'ryone knows it's Slinky

It's Slinky, it's Slinky,

For fun, it's a wonderful toy

It's fun for a girl and a boy.

"The reason everyone knows the jingle," her son told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is that we were too broke to buy a new one. We burned it into the mentality of the country."

Betty Mattas was born Feb. 13, 1918, in Altoona and met Richard James while attending Pennsylvania State University.

Upon retiring in 1998, she sold James Industries to Michigan-based Poof Products.

She never remarried.

"I had my family, and that was the center of my existence and still is," James said in 1995 in USA Today. "And I had Slinky."

In 2001, she became one of the few women inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, which praised her "leadership, foresight and business acumen" for turning around a struggling company to "produce what would become one of the country's true classic toys."

The success of Slinky was simple, she often said: "No batteries, nothing to wind up. These new toys on the market are lovely, but not everyone has $40, $50, $60 to spend on a child."

Among her survivors are three daughters and three sons.

And this...

When the Slinky's inventor Richard James, a naval engineer, and his wife decided to demonstrate their new toy at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia in the early 1940s, they feared that no one would buy it because it was so simple. They were so worried they gave a close friend a dollar to buy one. An hour and a half after the first demonstration, they had sold a total of 400 Slinkys!

The Slinky, whose design has been modified only once to crimp the ends for safety, remains the same today as it did at Gimbels. Not only is the Slinky an excellent toy, its action also demonstrates a variety of physical forces and principles.

The Slinky, like all objects, tends to resist change in its motion. Because of this inertia, if it were placed at the top of the stairs it would stay at rest without moving at all. At this point it has potential or stored energy. But once it is started down the stairs and gravity affects it, the potential energy is converted to the energy of motion or kinetic energy and the Slinky gracefully tumbles coil by coil down the stairs.

The physical properties of the slinky determine how quickly it moves under the influence of gravity. Although its movement may look simple, from a scientific point of view the motion is quite complex. As the slinky moves down the steps, energy is transferred along its length in a longitudinal or compressional wave, which resembles a sound wave that travels through a substance by transferring a pulse of energy to the next molecule. How quickly the wave moves depends on the spring constant and the mass of the metal. Other factors, such as the length of the slinky, the diameter of the coils and the height of the step must be considered to completely understand why a slinky moves as it does.

James originally developed the Slinky for the Navy as an anti-vibration device for ship instruments. When the Slinky failed to work for the Navy, it became one of the most successful toys of all time!--Newton's Apple.

Purchase a slinky online...enter "slinky" in the search box.


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