I think most people have played with a Slinky at one point or another in their lives. The Slinky is a pre-compressed helical spring toy invented by Richard James in the early 1940s. It is able to perform a number of tricks, including travelling down a flight of steps end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity and its own momentum, or appear to levitate for a period of time after it has been dropped. Kids have been known to spend hours playing with the simple spring, which rather defies the imagination in itself. Most kids tire easily of toys, so the long lasting play with a slinky was surprising. Still, as with all such toys, the Slinky eventually lost its draw, and few people play with it now.
The strangest thing about the Slinky is that it wasn’t invented to be a toy at all. In 1943, a naval mechanical engineer named Richard James, who was stationed at the William Cramp and Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. As he worked, James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring “stepped” in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright. I’m sure the sight was funny, mostly because it was so unexpected. As his wife Betty later recalled, “He came home and said, ‘I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension; I could make it walk.'” As with any inventor, I’m sure that his inventor’s mind was already clicking. James began to experiment with different types of steel wire over the next year, and finally found a spring that would walk. I’m sure he was like “a kid in a candy store” with each fine-tuning of the toy. Betty was skeptical at first, but changed her mind after the toy was fine-tuned and neighborhood children expressed an excited interest in it. She dubbed the toy Slinky, by which she meant “sleek and graceful,” after finding the word in a dictionary, Betty decided that this word exactly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.
The couple formed James Spring and Wire Company, which was later renamed James Industries, using just a $500 loan. They had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, hand-wrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece. Each was 2½ inches tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel. At first, the James couple had difficulty selling Slinky to toy stores but, then in November 1945, they were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy. Finally, the Slinky was a hit, and the first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes. In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair. The Slinky was without doubt a huge success, yet in it’s humble beginnings, it was an accident.
In every war, there are soldiers and there are those who serve in the background. Sometimes these people in the background have an astounding impact on the war effort. Such was the case, during World War II, when so many men were involved in the fighting, that it left very few people to work in the factories. It became obvious that the women were going to have to step up and help. Of course, it wasn’t all women either. My Uncle Bill Spencer did that work as well, because they wouldn’t take him in the service due to a hernia and flat feet. Uncle Bill, and his sisters, my aunts, Laura and Ruth Spencer, all worked at a job that would make the women famous as Rosie the Riveter. These people worked at jobs traditionally done by men, such as building bombers at Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant in Michigan, and the shipyards in Wisconsin, which is where my aunts and uncle worked. The work was different than work the women had done before, but they proved that they could do it. Their motto became just that…We Can Do It!!
Now, seven decades later, and after several memorials in their honor, 30 of the “Rosie the Riveters” were honored with a trip to Washington DC to visit the National World War II Memorial. These women are in their 80s and 90s now, and it was a wonderful trip for them to go and see the memorial, pose for group photos with the US Capitol as a backdrop, have lunch at a Library of Congress building and visit Arlington National Cemetery. All that was awesome, but the real honor was that at every stop, people approached them, shook their hands, and said, “Thank you.” So often we overlook the opportunity to thank those who have served our country. We might feel like we are intruding, or don’t know what to say, or we just feel strange, but sometimes we need to set those feelings aside, so that we can honor all those who served…no matter in what capacity they served.
These women symbolized the American spirit that made this country great, and it is a spirit that needs to be brought back to this country. We are a great nation, with great people. When we make up our minds to do something, we get it done. The was the attitude these women took to the bomber factories and the shipyards. They decided that they could carry the load of the homefront to make the fighting men safer…and they did. I’m very proud that my Uncle Bill, and my aunts, Laura and Ruth were a part of such an elite group as these women who were honored today, I only wish they could have been a part of this trip. Both of my aunts are in Heaven now, and Uncle Bill is in a nursing home with Dementia, so they could not be there. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of all three of them…and these incredible women who were honored today.
While my dad was in England fighting in World War II, his brother and sisters were working in the shipyards helping with the war effort there. On their days off, the workers at the shipyards liked to go and picnic in the area parks or a friends cabin. There was usually a group of young men and women that would go on these picnics, and Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bill were among them. In an effort to make my dad feel like he was a part of things back home, they would send him pictures of the things that were going on with them back home. Dad enjoyed the pictures from home immensely, but that didn’t stop him from being the typical big brother.
While Dad was in England, letters from home were like a lifeline. Those men were lonely and homesick. They depended on those letters from family and friends to help them get through that time of uncertainty and the ugliness of war. I have been reading his letters home for some time now, and while some of the letters reveal the loneliness that can only be seen if you read between the lines, others are more about having a little fun teasing his siblings, and especially his little sister, Ruth. Of course, you’ll have to admit, that she really walked right into it, but like any 18 year old girl, she probably didn’t realize what would come back to her.
Aunt Ruth wrote a letter to my dad, her brother, Allen, told him a little bit about this boy named Selmer that she obviously liked, and included a picture of Selmer kissing her. Well, my dad couldn’t let that one slide. This was his little sister, and she was growing up too fast for his liking. And who was this guy kissing her anyway? Dad remarked on how unusual the guy’s name was, and teased his sister about whether the guy was kissing her or looking at her locket, pretty much settling on the former thought. He teased her about the fact that she had apparently been telling him that she didn’t have any boyfriends, but clearly she did. And then, out came the big brother in my dad, when he told his little sister that this guy had “all the earmarks of a wolf” as far as he could see.
Now, all the rest of the teasing aside, I had to laugh at that part of the letter. A wolf!! I know that many people wouldn’t really understand the significance of that remark, but we…in this family…totally get it. It was almost as if my dad was predicting the future. Did Aunt Ruth marry Selmer? No, she didn’t! The prediction that my dad spoke, without realizing it, had more to do with the word than the man. You see, when my Aunt Ruth did get married, it was to a man named Lester (Jim) Wolfe!! So, while Selmer didn’t turn out to be the wolf my dad predicted, I guess my Uncle Jim Wolfe did, and that wolf literally swept my Aunt Ruth off her feet.
Living in Wisconsin, my Uncle Bill was no stranger to snow. In reality, it was a fact of life from the time he was a little boy. I’m sure that some winters were worse than others, which is the case in any area that gets snow, but those winters when the area got lots of snow, seemed to cause particular problems for Uncle Bill. I’m sure everyone thinks that lots of snow causes problems for everyone, and I would have to agree, but for Uncle Bill, it was a depressing event to a degree.
At least in his younger days, my uncle loved to be outdoors, and traveling, in particular, was very enjoyable to him. In the letters my dad wrote home to him from World War II, Dad mentioned that Uncle Bill was thinking of going to Mexico…of course, there was a job involved in that one, but Mexico would have also been a way to get out of the snow and warm up too, and since the letter was written in February, it’s my guess that Uncle Bill was, true enough, worried about the shipyards closing, but also, and maybe more importantly, feeling the cold winter weather pretty deeply too.
As a little boy, Uncle Bill had run across snow problems when he found himself sitting on the front walk of the family home, looking at the deep snow that was making it impossible for him to any further on his tricycle. The look on his face told me that this was not a happy little boy, and who could blame him. Tricycles are for riding on, not sitting on with the inability to move. And unfortunately for Uncle Bill, his tricycle was not the only place he found himself in just such a fix. It seems his car ended up snowed in as well, which we all know can be frustrating. The biggest difference between the tricycle and the car is the fact that with the car, Uncle Bill was still able to smile about the whole situation, where with the tricycle, he looked quite annoyed.
Winter’s snow can be lots of fun for everyone, or at least those who like winter and snow, but it also has the irritating ability to slow traffic, mess with travel plans, and make the use of certain toys impossible. For those who live in areas that get lots of snow, it can be particularly annoying, as was the case for Uncle Bill, whose plans always seemed to be foiled by the dumping of large amounts of snow, right on top of his world. It seemed he was always getting snowed in again in those days.
The United States has been involved in many wars in our history. Our military personnel have placed themselves in harm’s way so many times for the rights of others and for freedom from tyranny. American soldiers and their allies around the globe stood up for what was right. They fought against those who would take away the rights of others, and steal the resources of other nations. They didn’t ask why they were being sent to these places, they knew. Human rights were being stomped on and the people being tourtured and killed could not stand up for themselves. They would either continue to be abused, or someone would come to their aid. That someone would be a soldier, because that is the job these brave men and women signed up to do.
My dad, aunts, and uncles either fought in World War II, or worked in the shipyards to help with the war effort. Others have fought in such wars as Viet Nam, Korea, Desert Storm, and others. Many have served during peace time. It doesn’t matter how they served, our veterans stood and still stand always at the ready…willing to lay down their lives for people they don’t know…willing to be away from their own family, because they knew that their job was important. Their job is still important today. Whether we are fighting in Iraq, Afganistan, Iran, Lybia, or wherever tyranny lives, and freedom is being oppressed. If that is where they are needed, then that is where they will go, and they will do their very best work…they will give it their very best, and some will give all they have. That is just what brave men and women do.
Today is Veteran’s Day. It is a day to honor those brave men and women, who have done so much for us and for so many other people and nations around the world. There is no way that we can ever repay you for all you have done for us. We will continue to pray for your safety every day. Thank you so much for your service to us, your country, and the world.
Today my cousin, Tim reminded me that his grandmother, my Aunt Laura would had been 100 years old had she still been with us. My Aunt Laura was born August 3, 1912 in International Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest child of my grandparents, Allen and Anna. It would be almost 10 years before she would finally get any siblings, after which she would get a total of 3 in a little over 5 years. During those years, Aunt Laura would become her mother’s right hand, helping out with the younger children and with the farm, since her dad worked on the rail road and was away much of the time.
During World War II, my Aunt Laura became one of the famous Riveters, working in the Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin to help out the war effort. My Uncle Bill, her brother, always hated that term, Riveters, because they actually did not rivet anything, they welded, and Aunt Laura became very skilled at welding. That is very difficult for me to imagine, because Aunt Laura always seemed so feminine to me. I couldn’t imagine her working as a welder. My dad had been a welder too, and it is a sweaty, dirty job, so to think of Aunt Laura doing that, as well as my Aunt Ruth and my Uncle Bill, was very odd. My dad didn’t work in the shipyards during the war, because he was on active duty in England, on a B-17G Bomber. His siblings wanted to show their support for their brother, as well as the rest of the troops, and they did so very efficiently.
Aunt Laura went on to marry and have two sons, Eugene and Dennis, and three grandsons, Tim, Shawn, and David, and great grandsons Daniel and Cody. Boys seemed to be her lot in life. Girls, if she ever wanted any, just weren’t in the cards for her. I never heard that she was upset about that, so I think she must have thought it was a pretty good idea. As far as girls were concerned though, Aunt Laura stayed the night with me years ago, she and my girls got along just fine.
It’s hard to believe that Aunt Laura has been in Heaven for a decade now, but I’m quite sure she is celebrating her special day with my dad, Aunt Ruth, Grandma and Grandpa..and many others. Have a wonderful day Aunt Laura!! Happy birthday, and we love you!!