Do you remember Slinkys? The coiled metal toy that walks down stairs? Well, I certainly do. I had a lot of fun with them back in the day walking them down steps and springing them down and up like a yo-yo. However, at some point, they would get tangled up and rarely work as well as they once did. But still everyone I knew had one and loved it.
Slinkys did not start out as a toy. Engineer, Richard James, was trying to figure out a way to lesson vibrations to sensitive equipment on a Navy ship. He discovered that his "invention" would walk downstairs. (Do you ever wonder what made him think to try that, anyway?)
He took it home and between the neighborhood children's excitement and his wife, it ended up in Gimbels in Philidelphia in 1945. And the rest is history, so they say. (BTW, its Philadelphia beginnings made the Slinky Pennsylvania's State Toy.)
So just as the Slinky came from efforts not related to a toy, it has been used for many other things besides walking down stairs. First thing that comes to my mind is demonstrating compressional waves in science classes. Also, they were used as antennas during the Viet Nam War. And NASA has used them in zero gravity experiments.
However recently, I heard about my favorite use of all time. My mother fell a few months ago and broke her wrist. The recovery from that has been long and hard. One of the people who is doing therapy with her bought a birthday party box of Slinkys. She used one for my mother to manipulate and gave the rest to other nursing home residents. After a while, she looked around and saw a room of smiles as Slinkys were springing everywhere. She said even people she has never been able to get to smile were smiling.
Sometimes it's the little things that put a "spring" in our day. I want to thank to Richard James and the Navy's sensitive instruments for bringing us the Slinky and putting smiles on people of all ages for a long time now.
More about the Slinky: