Betty M. James (February 13, 1918, Altoona, Pennsylvania – November 20, 2008, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), was an American businessperson who came up with the name for the Slinky her husband Richard T. James invented. She ran James Industries, the firm that manufactured the toy James starting in 1960, after her husband left the firm and the family.
She was born as Betty Mattas on February 13, 1918 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. She attended Altoona Area High School and then Pennsylvania State University, leaving when she was married to James.
Her husband, an engineer, conceived of the toy in 1943 while working at a shipbuilding company in Philadelphia, after a torsion spring fell off of a table and started flipping end over end. The following year, Betty came up with the name Slinky after leafing through the dictionary and thinking that the word described the motion of the spring. The couple made 400 of the toys and convinced the Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to carry the toy for Christmas 1945 displayed on a ramp. These first models were all sold within 90 minutes at a price of $1 each.
In the face of declining sales, her husband left the family and moved to Bolivia in 1960 to join what she described as a religious cult. She took over management of the firm, and responsibility for the family's six children, running it until the company was taken over by Poof Products of Plymouth, Michigan in a 1998 acquisition. The Slinky Dog helped turn around the sales slump and a new version issued after a version featured in the 1995 movie Toy Story was another top seller.
By the time of her death in 2008, Slinkys were priced from $4 to $5, with Slinky Dogs selling for about $20. More than 300 million Slinkys in all their variations had been sold in her lifetime.
Betty died at age 90 on November 20, 2008 of congestive heart failure at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She had lived in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where James Industries was headquartered.
- "Betty James, who co-founded Slinky company, dies". Altoona Mirror (Associated Press). 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
- Hevesi, Dennis. "Betty James, Who Named the Slinky Toy, Is Dead at 90", The New York Times, November 24, 2008. Accessed November 25, 2008.
- Clegg, Amanda. "Ex-Slinky CEO remembered as business icon", Altoona Mirror, November 22, 2008. Accessed November 25, 2008.
- "Betty (Mattas) James Obituary". Altoona Mirror. November 22, 2008.
- Barnes, Julian E. "BUSINESS: DIARY; A Name, a Name, Destined for Fame", The New York Times, January 28, 2001. Accessed November 25, 2008.
- Toy Industry Hall of Fame, Toy Industry Association. Accessed November 25, 2008.