Thursday, January 19, 2012

Invention of the Slinky

Richard James, a marine engineer, was trying to come up with a new type of spring. The spring would, hopefully, shield sensitive ship instruments from wave action so the instruments could give accurate readings. James even experimented at home and one day he knocked a spring off a shelf, but it didn’t fall, it crawled in the distinctive Slinky way down to the floor. James soon discovered the fascination of watching the spring descend stairs.

Mrs. Betty James was the one who suggested it could be a popular toy, she even named it the Slinky, which is how she described the toy’s style of moving. Betty James and her husband founded a company in 1946 to market Richard James’s invention, which was an immediate success.

James developed new machinery to make slinkys very fast and he started an extensive advertising campaign. Besides the original slinky, he developed a Slinky Dog, Slinky Train called Loco and a Slinky Worm called Suzie. After a time James left to become a missionary and Betty started running to company. Well over 300 million slinkys have been sold worldwide.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Crayons have existed since Egyptian times, where they combined pigment with beeswax. This was mixed on the painting however and not in the form of a drawing implement. Later, pastels were developed, which are a mixture of chalk and pigment. These were in the form of sticks of chalk. But anyone that has taken an art class knows how messy pastels can be, the color gets everywhere.

It wasn't until liquid paraffin was combined with pigment that you got something easy to hold and work with, and not messy. Various companies made crayons before Binney and Smith started their American factory. But their product was the one that took off.

Edward Binney devoloped Crayola (a combination of the French words for chalk and oil) crayons about the turn of the 20th century. They were in stores by 1903 and sold for a nickel a box.Binney and Smith was already a well established company at this time, their signature product was lampblack, which is a long-lasting black paint, which can be used on many different surfaces.

At first the company made crayons just for artist's use, but after the company won a gold medal at the 1904 St Louis World's Fair, they decided to use this medal to launch a new product. The medal was for their dustless chalk, but in those days, the award was considered a great achievement. If you look at a Crayola package, you will notice that they still show the award. Crayola was repackaged as a children's product.

1905 the 8 color box is introduced in regular and large sizes.

1939 a 52 color box was introduced, only to be discontinued within a few years.

1949 the 48 color box was created.

1958 the 64 color box, with sharpener, was introduced and was immediately very popular.


There are 120 different Crayola colors . Today they come in packs as small as 8 up to all 120 colors. Crayola also offers colored pencils and washable markers. Crayola also now owns Silly Putty, another classic toy.

You can get a 200 pack of Crayola crayons, but these include colors besides the standard 120,including glitter, metallic, etc

Thursday, January 12, 2012


This classic children’s toy grew out of a war time necessity. WWII cut of the United States from their supply of rubber, which was imported from the South Pacific, mostly from Malaya and Ceylon. Japan now controlled those areas and there was a great need for rubber to make jeep, truck and airplane tires and many other pieces of military hardware.

The rubber shortage led to gas rationing, just to save tires. There were also rubber drives, starting in 1942, where citizens were urged to turn in any available rubber, in the form of rain coats, garden hoses and other items. This recycled rubber went to the military, but it just wasn’t enough. So there was a military and civilian need for a rubber substitute.

The U. S. War Production Board went to General Electric, which were making many items to the military, and asked them to come up with an effective, inexpensive replacement for rubber. Synthetic rubber had already been invented in the 1920’s but it was expensive. The government wanted a cheaper substitute, made from readily available ingredients.


In 1943 a GE scientist, named James Wright, went to work on the problem. He mixed boric acid and silicone oil. This produced a putty-like substance. It was somewhat like rubber; when made into a ball it bounced better than a rubber ball. But it really didn’t work as a rubber substitute. It was too stretchy and could not be made into a solid object, it was just not suitable. The product was kept around the lab, just for fun, and was called “nutty putty”. In 1945, GE challenged engineers to find a use for the product, but none could. It was just an interesting substance, nothing more.


But a toy store salesman, Paul Hodgson, realized it’s potential. He lived in New Haven, where the GE lab was located, and he was introduced to nutty putty at a party, in 1949. Hodgson saw the potential immediately and bought a large piece of nutty putty from GE. He had the substance broken up into one ounce balls and offered it for sale.

He renamed the product “Silly Putty” and it quickly became the most popular item in his toy store. In 1950, Hodgson and store owner, Ruth Falgatter, needed a product for the upcoming Easter season. A small toy that fit inside a plastic egg would be perfect for an Easter basket present. So the product was placed in the small eggs and offered for sale.

The product did not sell that well, but favorable word of mouth and a mention in the New Yorker lead to hundreds of thousands of orders. In 1952 supplies of silicone oil were low due to military needs, so Silly Putty was rather scarce.

But by the late 1950’s, the product was a popular children’s toy and was extensively advertised on television. Silly Putty had made the transition from adult novelty to classic children’s toy. Nowadays, it is available in more colors, but it is still an inexpensive, fun toy. The best use for the toy, for me, is to lift off pictures from the Sunday funnies and stretch them out. Some people have found practical uses for the toy, such as cleaning off lint or dirt, but really this is just a fun, impractical toy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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