In the early 1940s, the nation's energies were bent on victory in Europe. American industry revolved around war production. On the grounds of Cramp's shipyard in Philadelphia, where wartime employment peaked at 18,000, Richard James would have been among scores of engineers urgently devising plans for new naval battleships.
Designing delicate sea-bound instruments in the midst of this melee, an entirely non-military application caught James's attention. He reportedly knocked a tension spring off a shelf and as it slid to the ground, thought to himself that it could make a good toy.
Here's where the successful inventor departs from the rest of us. Not only did James think it, but he spent the better part of a two years experimenting with different lengths and metallurgical formulas until he produced the familiar, elegant spring that could walk down stairs.
His wife, Betty, picked the name "slinky" from the dictionary, and showing remarkable confidence in the product of her husband's tinkering, she joined him in founding James Industries on a $500 loan.
The next famous scene in Slinky history has the pair arriving at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia on a snowy day before Christmas, where Richard James ran his Slinky's down a sloped board. Crowds of customers clutched dollar bills. The couple sold out their stock of 400 toys in an hour and a half.