Richard T. James

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For other people named Richard James, see Richard James (disambiguation).
The Slinky spring toy, invented by Richard James

Richard Thompson James[1] (1914–1974), born January 1, 1914, was a naval engineer. He invented a spring toy, named Slinky by his wife Betty, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early to mid-1940s.


Richard James graduated from Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school located in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1935. He graduated in 1939 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.[2]


In 1943, Richard James was trying to develop a means for suspending sensitive shipboard instruments aboard naval vessels, even in rough seas. He was working with tension springs, when he accidentally dropped one. Seeing how the spring kept moving after it hit the ground, an idea for a toy was born.

With a $500 loan, Richard James developed a coil winding machine and started the James Spring & Wire Company to mass-produce the Slinky. The name for the toy was coined by Betty James. Slinky was successfully demonstrated at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia during the 1945 Christmas season and then at the 1946 American Toy Fair. It became a huge success, with around 300 million Slinkys purchased since then.

Around 1960, Richard went to Bolivia to join Wycliffe Bible Translators.[3] Betty James took over as CEO of James Industries.[4] She moved the company from Philadelphia to its current Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania location and began an active advertising campaign, complete with the famous Slinky jingle. She was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.

James died in 1974 in Bolivia. Betty James died on November 20, 2008, age 90, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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