About Helen Marian Malsed
Helen Herrick Malsed, a lumber baron's daughter whose imagination gave rise to the popular Slinky Dog and Slinky Train toys, died Nov. 13 in Seattle, her home for almost 60 years. She was 88.
She created more than 26 toys or games, including the first board game based on Roman numerals, said Fredrick Malsed, her son.
Among her other inventions, Mr. Malsed said, were large, irregular-shaped interlocking beads sold as jewelry for children. But unlike the tiny pieces they replaced, hers were made too big to fit in an infant's mouth, to eliminate the risk of choking. She sold that idea to a major toy manufacturer in 1958 for $5,000.
By then, her son said, Mrs. Malsed was collecting royalties of $60,000 to $70,000 annually. The checks continued for the 17 years of her patent for the idea that she proposed to the company that made Slinky.
That company is James Industries of Hollidaysburg, Pa., the inventor and manufacturer of the original, unadorned Slinky, a coiled 80-foot-long steel wire equally capable of somersaulting gracefully down steps or ending up at the foot of the steps in a maddening tangle.
Invented in 1944 by Richard James, an engineer who worked at a Philadelphia shipyard, where he observed a torsion spring fall from a table, the toy was named by his wife, Betty, and the following year the sinuous Slinky was on its way to sales of an estimated 250 million. Eventually a Slinky wound up under the Malsed Christmas tree, where according to family legend, 6-year-old Fredrick thought to ask, I wonder what this could do with wheels?
My mother had always listened carefully to children, Mr. Malsed said, so she immediately got father to go to the basement, take the wheels off another toy and try to solder them on a Slinky spring.
Not long after, Richard T. James 2d said, Mrs. Malsed sent us a letter and some drawings, suggesting we put the Slinky in the body of a pull-toy, and we liked the idea. While Mrs. Malsed and James Industries maintained a very nice relationship even after her patent expired, Mr. James said, he did not remember her ever visiting the factory.
Mrs. Malsed invented pull-toys for other manufacturers, but none as popular as those for Slinky.
Born in Cincinnati, Mrs. Malsed spent her first 16 years in St. Maries, Idaho, before moving to Spokane, Wash., with her family. Her father, Fred Herrick, had lumber operations in seven states from Washington to Florida, Mr. Malsed said, and traveled to the sites in his private railroad car. But he lost $12 million in the Depression, and his daughter Helen was forced to drop out of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.
After studying advertising in San Francisco, she was offered a job at the Frederick & Nelson department store in Seattle, where she met and married Marion Parker Malsed, who sold men's clothing in the store.
Mrs. Malsed's husband died in 1973. In addition to her son, also of Seattle, she is survived by her sisters, Catherine Chastek of Spokane and Fredrica Adams of Seattle, and two grandchildren.