November 23, 2008
Betty James, RIP
Betty James, wife of the Slinky inventor and president of the Slinky company for four decades, died last week. I didn't get a chance to meet her (although I do have a slinky with her autograph, given to me by her son), but I remain grateful for all she did to build up the Slinky empire and spread joy through the world. The Altoona paper's obituary. The NY Times obituary.
April 15, 2008
Slinky Birthday Cake
I'm celebrating a big birthday this year. For the kids' birthdays, Lisa has been making neat cakes from the Coolest Birthday Cakes website such as a schoolbus cake, a Curious George cake and a Very Hungry Caterpillar cake. (See my exam question about this website). Lisa asked me what kind of cake that I wanted, and I said I wanted a "Slinky Cake." If you think about it, this is a very tall order, especially because there were no templates at the websites.
Despite the challenge, Lisa outdid herself with her version of the Slinky Cake:
See the full 4.4MB version.
UPDATE: The cake is now on Coolest Birthday Cakes.
March 19, 2007
My Highest Slinky--Stonerware Chronic Coil
I own a lot of unusual Slinky items, but this one rivals the bizarrest of them. Via eBay, I just bought a "Stonerware" item called "Chronic Coil," which is a green-colored plastic slinky in the shape of a marijuana leaf. See a picture here. The box has a tagline "for a laid-back lifestyle (tm)" and says "It walks down stairs, stoned and impaired" (parody?). Maybe I should start a new collection of Slinkies in the shape of contraband...
February 07, 2007
My Own Slinky Store
Using a fun little tool called Zlio, I quickly created my own store to sell slinkies (also called magic springs and coil spring toys). I only have 5 products in it so far, but I get a lot of questions from people about where to find "esoteric" slinkies, so I hope I can make that task a little easier in the future.
November 19, 2006
Everyone Loves a Slinky
I haven't had the chance to mine YouTube for good nostalgia, but on further reflection it seems obvious that the slinky commercial already would be posted there.
October 06, 2006
Slinky Factory Tour
I have many "life goals" I want to achieve before my time is up. Some of these are conceptual and hard to measure, such as--be a great father, husband and family member/friend and make a positive contribution to society. Others are "check the box" in nature, such as my decades-long quest to climb 100 of the tallest peaks in Southern California. (In 15 years, I've climbed 54).
Today, I checked one of those boxes. My wife and I have collected Slinkies for the last 12 years. I explain why here. We now have over 300 Slinky-related items. Naturally, for more than a decade, I've had a burning desire to visit the mother ship, the source of my joy, Slinky nirvana--the Slinky factory.
I finally made my pilgrimage. This weekend, I am at a conference in Pittsburgh, about 90 miles from the factory. So I arranged my schedule with a free morning. Early this morning, I hit the road to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
As I drove into town, I was surprised to discover that Hollidaysburg doesn't do anything to celebrate the Slinky. No "Home of the Slinky" sign. No Slinky-themed burger joint. No stores selling Slinky T-shirts. There were not even any signs pointing the way to the Slinky factory (in fact, it's pretty hard to find--it was mismarked on Google Maps, and the factory is nestled between a forest and a junkyard). It's as if the town doesn't care that it's home to one of the major brands in the world.
There are no direction signs in part because the Slinky factory doesn't cater to visitors. They don't offer tours, have a visitor's center or provide a factory outlet/store (they used to but they closed it down). I drove past the junkyard to a poorly marked and unremarkable building, pulled off the street onto some unmarked asphalt, and walked in the door.
There was a display case of some slinky items in the foyer, but inside the door, there was no receptionist. On the right was a conference room with various Slinky items strewn about. On the left was a large but sparsely populated cube farm. A woman asked if she could help me. When I said that I was looking for the Slinky outlet, she told me that it was closed.
My quest could have ended there, but I took a gamble. A number of years ago, my wife had called the factory looking for an item we saw on eBay called "Slinky art" (or sometimes called "Slinky pooh")--the extrusion of plastic Slinkies at the end of a job to clean the line. She spoke with a woman named Charlene who helped her order this as a special treat for me. I remember my wife mimicking her voice, and I had a hunch I was talking to Charlene. So I asked if she was Charlene, and that provided an ice-breaker that allowed for a little dialogue.
A man walked over and Charlene introduced him as Tom James, the son of Richard and Betty James (the inventor and initial owners of the Slinky) and the manager of the enterprise. We started chatting a little. I asked if they had any more Slinky art, and he invited me back into the factory to rummage through their bin. He issued me some goggles and off we went.
Unfortunately, the factory was relatively quiet. They manufacture Slinkies 4 days a week (20 hours/day), and I came on an off-day. They were manufacturing some third party branded Slinkies-as-schwag, so I got to see the Slinkies being "printed" and then baked. Otherwise, the factory was rather unremarkable, except it had a lot of inventory for the holiday season.
All told, Tom and Charlene generously gave me about a half-hour of their time. I walked out the door a very satisfied Slinky loyalist. I also walked out with a number of goodies: an item of Slinky art (we picked one of the smallest we could find--most of them were a couple of feet tall, too big to carry on the plane); the 14k gold Slinky in a wooden box; a not-yet-shipped colored metal Slinky in a box autographed by Betty James; some Slinky-branded coloring books; and some great memories.
June 10, 2006
Slinky Manufacturing Article
I don't know how I missed this article when it first came out in 2002. The article describes the Slinky manufacturing, distribution and retailing process, beginning with the processing of scrap metal at a junked car lot in Florida and ending at a KB Toys retail outlet in Gaithersburg, MD (with stops in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New Jersey along the way).
The slinky manufacturers are notoriously secretive about their manufacturing process (hence, no slinky factory tours), but this article gives some flavor for the process:
Just a few hours later, the wire was hooked up to the Slinky machines, which flattened, coiled and cut it. Workers crimped the ends of the still-hot Slinkys and placed them on a conveyor belt, which carried them to the machine that boxes them -- each Slinky walking toward its own box.
First a Slinky hit a bar, flopped over and went down a step. A mechanical arm pulled a box from a stack, opened it and placed the box next to the Slinky, which was then automatically pushed inside.
The process isn't mere theatrics; it's a system of quality control that Slinky inventor Richard James devised in 1945. A Slinky wound too tightly or too loosely won't walk down into the box correctly.
November 29, 2005
I don't get the ringtone phenomenon. I'm not a big fan of cellphones generally (I got my very first cellphone ever in August, and I've used it less than 20 minutes since then), and I don't care what the ring sounds like. Certainly I don't care enough to pay for a new ring. But a smart marketer may have come up with a way to potentially dislodge some of my money by offering a ringtone based on the Slinky theme song from its old commercials. See here and then search for "slinky." Unfortunately, the AG Interactive verison is like a bad Muzak knockoff--it's horrible! If you would like to hear a more listenable version of the song, try here.
Meanwhile, according to Clickz, the slinky ringtone is just the beginning:
"Slinky content for mobile devices and IM will include emoticons, backgrounds and wallpapers, winks, avatars, screensavers, video ringtones and clips from the toy's classic commercial."
March 15, 2005
Slinky 60th year anniversary
Don Fernandez of Cox News writes an article on Slinky’s 60th year anniversary. For enthusiasts like me, there’s not much new in the article (the article seems to rely heavily on a press release from the manufacturer), but it is still a nice summary of the topic. However, I absolutely hated the analogy between Paris Hilton and the slinky (saying we like both because they are “brainless things that move funny”)—this person clearly doesn’t understand slinkies and exudes disdain towards slinkies.
I have written a lot about slinkies. The principal highlights:
· my 1,600 word comprehensive review of slinkies
· why slinkies are good office toys
· a review of the Super Slinky
· a review of the Slinky Extreme
(Thanks to my student Matt Holemon for the link).