Slinky inches forward to being named Pennsylvania state toy

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania has a state dog, a state insect, a state fossil, and even a state beverage.

Why, Bob Swaim wonders, can’t it also have a state toy?

Swaim, a retired math teacher from Springfield Township in upper Bucks County, has made it his mission over the last five years to persuade the state Legislature to do just that with the Slinky, the springy, walking wonder that became on overnight sensation in the 1940s — thanks to shoppers in Philadelphia. It saw a resurgence with a generation of latchkey kids in the 1980s and is still being produced today at a plant outside Altoona.

The Slinky, Swaim said, is a Pennsylvania story. It is also a women’s story. Yet, getting legislators to adopt his cause has been a challenge.

“It’s been fun, but I never realized how difficult it would be,” Swaim told on a recent weekday afternoon, as he sat at a table in the municipal building in nearby Coopersburg, surrounded by mounds of paper he has amassed in his research on the toy. “Nobody wants to go out on that limb politically. … Maybe they think people will make fun of them — that the only legislation they ever passed is a Slinky bill.”

If people knew the toy’s history, Swaim believes, they wouldn’t feel embarrassed.

Swaim is happy to tell the tale to anyone who will listen. The 73-year-old is a collector of human-powered toys and has spent a chunk of his retirement doing demonstrations of his collections, which he carts around in a large white van.

The Slinky, of course, is among them. On a recent frigid December afternoon he set up different types of stairs and ramps in a spacious room to show the toy’s simple yet oddly mesmerizing walk. The teacher in him — he taught math and computer science at Souderton Area High School — can’t help noting the toy’s value in teaching about math and physics.

But it’s the story behind the toy that animates Swaim.

As with so many innovations, he says, the Slinky came to life by accident.

Its inventor, Richard James, was a Pennsylvania State University graduate working at the Cramp shipyard in Philadelphia in 1943. His mission was to devise a spring to stabilize equipment on ships, when one day, a coil sitting atop a shelf was knocked down. It began to do a bouncy dance that would later become the signature move of the Slinky.

James spent the next two years perfecting a spiral that could replicate that “walk,” and enlisted his wife, Betty, to name it. She came up with Slinky after poring over a dictionary. “Sleek and sinuous in movement or outline,” the definition goes.

Sales were initially slow. But that changed in an instant when, in 1945, the Gimbels department store in Philadelphia let James demonstrate the Slinky during perhaps the best time of the year: the sweet spot between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“They sold 400 of them in 90 minutes,” marvels Swaim, adding that the toy sold for a crisp $1 at the time.

Success followed — and then ebbed. By the 1960s, the company was beset with financial problems and was dealt another blow when James announced to Betty and their six children that he was moving to Bolivia to join a religious mission.

That is where it turns into a woman’s story, Swaim said.

Betty James, who also attended Penn State, took over running the company. She not only nursed it back to health; she led the charge on a marketing campaign that helped turn the Slinky into one of the landmark toys for a generation of kids — one with staying power, despite the growing popularity of battery-powered toys.

“It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. It’s fun, it’s a wonderful toy,” went the catchy jingle on television commercials.

“She was a risk-taker,” said Swaim.

Betty James moved production to Hollidaysburg, outside Altoona in central Pennsylvania, where she had grown up. And when she sold the company in the 1990s, multiple accounts of the sale state that she required that production remain there.

Indeed, it is still there today. And the classic metal Slinky is still produced in Hollidaysburg, said Lauren Diani, senior marketing manager at Alex Brands, which now owns the Slinky — although a handful of other Slinky items, she said, are made in China.

The Slinky has been “made here in Hollidaysburg since 1964,” said Paul Luther, the plant’s general manager, who has worked for the company either as a contractor or an employee for nearly 40 years.

In an interview, Luther credited Betty James for that.

“She looked after people,” he said of James, who died at age 90 in 2008. “She took care of people.”

Swaim said he has spoken to several lawmakers over the last six years in efforts to persuade them to introduce a bill on the Slinky. Among the arguments he presents: They wouldn’t be charting new territory, just righting a historical wrong of failing to recognize the Slinky’s deep roots in the state.

Back in the early 2000s, several lawmakers pushed legislation to make the Slinky the state toy. One was former State Rep. Rick Geist, a Republican from Blair County whose district included Hollidaysburg and who recalled standing in the Capitol rotunda and launching Slinkys down the marble steps that lead to the House and Senate.

By then, the Slinky had been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, in Rochester, N.Y.

Geist said in an interview his colleagues liked the idea, but his bill never got a vote.

“Everybody just smiled and did nothing,” he said. “People think it’s frivolous to pass that kind of legislation.”

Yet, the legislature has passed numerous bills designating everything from a state game bird (the ruffed grouse) to a state steam locomotive (the Pennsylvania Railroad K4s), according to state records.

The Great Dane was named the state dog in 1965, the firefly was designated the state insect in 1974 (the legislature in 1988 even fine-tuned that to name a particular species of firefly, Photuris pennsylvanica), and milk was chosen as the state beverage in 1982. Phacops rana, a small water animal, has been the state fossil since 1988.

And just in the last legislative session, there was polite disagreement between the House and Senate over whether the Eastern hellbender — sometimes called a snot otter — or Wehrle’s salamander should be the state’s official amphibian. (The two sides never reached a meeting of the minds, and the effort died with the close of the legislature’s two-year session last month.)

Newly elected Sen. Judy Ward, a Republican from Blair County who said she admired Betty James growing up, said she is open to the idea of introducing legislation. But she thinks she would need to hit precisely the right timing to make it successful.

“I so appreciate his efforts,” Ward said of Swaim, recalling when he contacted her as she made her first successful run for office in 2014. “He has so much energy and he has such a passion and fascination with the Slinky. I’m grateful for him because he’s kept this alive.”

For Swaim, that means hope.

“An injustice was done by not passing a law,” said Swaim, who envisions the legislature recognizing one person or product every year as a way to market the state.

“We should be proud of Pennsylvania,” he said, “And one way to show that is to recognize its history and teach it to the kids.”

Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Navigating the new I-515 southbound to 215 Beltway ramp configuration
After opening at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, the new Interstate 515 southbound to the 215 Beltway westbound freeway ramp configuration caused confusion amongst motorist. Here’s how to navigate the new ramp. (Mick Akers/ Las Vegas Review-Journal).
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like