In 1943, when her husband Richard asked her to name a toy he'd created from a piece of coiled metal, Betty James consulted a dictionary and discovered slinky, which means sleek and sinuous. Twenty-seven years later, after the Slinky toy had become a nationwide success, Richard James abandoned his family to join a religious cult in Bolivia. Left with six young children and "a business in shambles," according to her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Betty James mortgaged her house and gambled everything she had to attend a toy show in New York in 1963. When orders began pouring in, she moved the James Industries factory to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, near her Altoona home, and guided the company until she retired in 1998. Upon retiring she sold James Industries to Michigan-based Poof Products.
Betty James died in Philadelphia last Thursday at age 90.
The Slinky was named the Official State Toy of Pennsylvania in 2001. Last year, Wired Magazine named the Slinky toy No. 1 on its list of "10 Things We Love": "One patent, a 400-unit debut in a Philadelphia department store, and 300 million toys later, we still can't take our hands off the awesomely simple, mesmerizing little benders."
According to this Wikipedia article, "one or more Slinkys used together can form the basis of a shortwave radio antenna." The Slinky can also be used as a solenoid to induce a magnetic field.
Watch a Slinky TV commercial from the 1960s and sing along (EARWORM ALERT):
Who walks the stair without a care/and makes the happiest sound? /Bounce up and down, just like a clown/ Everyone knows it's Slinky!
(Hat tip: Judith K.)
UPDATE: And speaking of walking the stair (CAT VIDEO ALERT).