HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. - Betty James, who co-founded the company that made the Slinky and beat the odds as a single mother in the late 1950s to become a successful executive, has died. She was 90.
She died Thursday, said a spokeswoman for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1945, James and her husband at the time, Richard, founded the company that would later make Slinky, the toy for which she was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.
She took over management of James Industries Inc. 14 years after the company was founded, after her husband left her to follow a religious cult in Bolivia. Richard James died in 1974.
Initially, James would leave her six children with a caregiver from Sunday through Thursday while she oversaw operations in Philadelphia. But in 1965, she moved the company to her hometown of Hollidaysburg, where, although it was sold in 1998, it remains today.
"She was an icon in the community because of that business," Blair County Commissioner Diane Meling said. "What kid didn't grow up with a Slinky?"
Hundreds of millions of Slinkys have been sold worldwide. James explained the classic toy's success in a 1995 interview with the Associated Press:
"I think really it's the simplicity of it," she said. "There's nothing to wind up; it doesn't take batteries. I think also the price helps. More children can play with it than a $40 or $60 toy."
On its Web site, the Hall of Fame praises James for commitment and perseverance that "allowed children the world over the opportunity to relish the ingenuity and pure fun of a Slinky." *