Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Accidents

Title: 14 karat Gold-Plated Commemorative Slinky
Year: 1990s
Material: 14 karat Gold-Plated metal coil
Creator: Poof Slinky Company
Collection: Please Touch Museum

Who walks the stair without a care
It shoots so high in the sky.
Bounce up and down just like a clown. 
Everyone knows its Slinky.

The best present yet to give or get
The kids will all want to try.
The hit of the day when you're ready to play
Everyone knows it's Slinky.

It's Slinky, It’s Slinky
for fun it's the best of the toys
It's Slinky, It’s Slinky
the favorite of girls and boys.

Remember that jingle? If not, this 1960s commercial, or the 1980s version, which I remember, will bring you up to speed. As a popular toy of the later half of the 20th century, it only seems right that the Slinky is displayed at the Please Touch Museum (PTM), a museum of play. What's more, it was invented here in Philadelphia, is Pennsylvania's official state toy, and is included on the Toy Industry Association's "Century of Toys List." The Slinky is a celebration of the simplicities of childhood, Philadelphia innovation, and happy accidents. 

1960s Slinky Science
It all started in Philadelphia in 1942, when naval engineer Richard James, busy at work on a mechanical spring project, knocked something from his desk; a discarded coil of spring wire. As the coil fell, it bounced horizontally across the room. Inspired by its movements, James experimented with the steel and tension, and invited his young son to play with his prototypes. When the Slinky hit the shelves of Gimbels Department Store in 1945, 400 Slinkys sold within the first 90 minutes.

Today Slinky is produced by the Poof-Slinky company in Hollidaysburg, PA close to where I grew up. In addition to the original toy, a Slinky Dog and Slinky Train, were later developed. Most recently, the Slinky Dog was redesigned as a character in Toy Story and for today’s youth, this may be their primary Slinky-related point of reference.

This 14 kerat gold plated coil of metal is displayed in a glass case, along with several other plastic and metal versions of the toy, in multiple sizes and colors. To create visual interest, some toys are placed on top of their original packaging, some are slinking out of their boxes, and others stand arched, appearing to be in mid-slink. Presented in a museum voice, a small text label inside the case briefly describes the toy’s history. I can’t help but mention that I found a grammatical error on the text panel (unhappy accident). Besides a sitting area that is made to resemble a train station, the case stands apart from other objects or play areas. It is near the entrance to the World’s Fair Centennial Exhibit, which out of all PTM’s exhibits, caters most to an adult audience. I assume that this placement was intentional, as adults probably best relate to the Slinky.

This object may be important to visitors who have fond memories of playing with the toy, or singing along with its catchy  jingle on television commercials. It may also appeal to individuals interested in toy history and design, anyone with knowledge or curiosity about Physics, fans of Toy Story, and appreciators of simple, affordable toys.
In order to learn more about this object, one could explore the Physics
behind its movements. It might also be fun to relive my childhood through toy history books, such as Toy Time!: From Hula Hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos: A Look Back at the Most-Beloved Toys of Decades Past by Christopher Byrne. It might also be fun to explore other inventions that were made by mistake,  as well as this article about the accidental improvements that were made to another toy in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, I doubt that many children living in 2014 would have any long-lasting interest in this object. Sure, the first few trips down the stairs may rouse some giggles, but where are its screens and buttons and sounds? Children may be more interested in watching an onscreen Toy Story version than having the actual toy in their hands. From a modern day child’s point of view, the Slinky may be a toy of the past; maybe something that entertained grandma and grandpa, but they’re reeeaaaalllly old and aren't in touch with what the kids want these days.

Currently, all of the Slinkys on display at PTM are motionless and out of reach. In order to engage viewers with this object, I would provide versions that are accessible for hands-on play. There seems to be a fair amount of open space in the Train Station corridor, where the display case currently resides. I would create a miniature staircase where with the assistance of the museum’s Experience Hosts, visitors could test Slinkys. I might also have a viewing station where visitors could watch the original Slinky commercial, which might be particularly fun for older adults who may have fond memories of playing with the toy.

To incorporate some scientific principles for older kids and adults, I might create a basic take home guide that explores how the toy demonstrates rules of Physics. The guide would instruct users to perform “experiments” with their Slinky at home, and introduce how Newton’s law of gravity and centripetal force come into play. Assuming that PTM sells the toy in their gift shop, this might be a good money-making opportunity. 

Here's another great thing about this object; the first Slinkys were sold for $1 and most still range between $2 and $20. Simplicity and affordability, are in my opinion, characteristics you'd want in any toy...top that off with a catchy jingle, and you're golden. 


  1. As someone who wasn't familiar with the slinky commercial, of course I had to watch it. And per usual when I watch a YouTube video, I got lost and started watching related videos and found this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIPK2NQ85Fc. It's cute. It shows two young men playing with a slinky on an escalator and was posted in 2011. I think this proves that slinkys are still played with! I think you made a great point about incorporating principles and activities for older children and adults. As I said on Beth's post about the PTM, adults are often forgotten about at children's museums. But, it's a great way to bring out the inner child in all of us while still respecting the growth of knowledge I now have as I've gotten older. Awesome initiative!

  2. I was shocked to learn that the slinky wasn't created until the 1940s! I feel like it is one of those toys that has been around forever. I also appreciated your idea of including a slinky to test out near the case. As you mentioned, the slinky probably is not as popular as it once was and kids today may get easily board with it. By placing a slinky for use next to the case I think the adult visitors would be really excited to share this toy with their own children! This may also lead to the purchase of a slinky in the museum gift shop!