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The Accidental Invention of the Slip 'N Slide

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Millions of American kids have summer memories with the Slip 'N Slide. It's one of the most popular toys ever.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was invented because of some childhood silliness. In the summer of 1960, Robert Carrier had returned home from work. He found his 10-year-old son, Mike, and his friends sliding down their driveway in Lakewood, California. The boys had turned the hose on the painted concrete. It created a cool, slippery surface to play on.

Robert Carrier told his boys it was dangerous to slide on concrete, says Tim Walsh. He's author of "Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them."

Carrier's Son Had Given Him An Idea

Carrier worked with fabrics at a boat-manufacturing company. The next day, he brought home a 50-foot roll of Naugahyde, which he laid on the driveway. The vinyl-coated, waterproof fabric was slicker and safer than the dangerous concrete. Carrier's son had given him an idea.

In 1961, Carrier created a patent for the "aquatic play equipment." With a patent, no one can legally produce your invention without permission. From his original strip of Naugahyde, Carrier took a section of plastic material. He sewed a tube into the side, to which a hose could attach. The tube had small holes along the length of it. Water could be released through pressure from the hose. Seams stitched across the length of the fabric also carried water across. It kept the surface wet without making it soggy.

Zoom-inImage 2. Robert D. Carrier's "Aquatic Play Equipment," patented May 2, 1961. Photo: Patent 2,982,547/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

It may seem like a simple idea, but "it is really genius," says Walsh.

Wham-O Sells Over 300,000

The toy manufacturer Wham-O, which also sold the Frisbee and Hula Hoop, saw beauty in Carrier's design, too. Wham-O bought the rights to sell the Slip 'N Slide. It traded out Naugahyde for cheaper vinyl plastic and shortened the length to 25 feet. Then it released the "Wham-O Slip 'N Slide Magic Waterslide" in February 1961. By September that year, more than 300,000 slides had been sold.

Wham-O's early TV advertisements helped sell the Slip 'N Slide. They showed kids flying across their lawns. "IT'S CRAZY… people scoot like seals!" declared the box. "It makes you go like a jet," said another 1960s commercial.

But another part of Slip 'N Slide's appeal was its price tag.

Walsh says he wanted a pool as a kid, but his family couldn't pay for one. At $9.95, though, Slip 'N Slide was much cheaper than even going to the public pool with family.

Fun Options Have Been Added Over The Years

Today, a Slip 'N Slide costs about $35. The original now includes options like double sliding lanes for racing plus various inflatable add-ons. As of 2011, more than 30 million Slip 'N Slides had been sold. It won't be surprising if 2020 sees even higher sales. Daniel Modlin, a writer for the Daily Beast website, recently predicted Slip 'N Slides would sell out this summer. That's because more people are stuck at home because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Of course, other companies have created versions of the slide. Today, though, no Slip 'N Slide-style product except Wham-O's can have the special yellow color.

In 1993, the toy was pulled back over the possible dangers. A report said between 1973 and 1991 seven adults and a 13-year-old who used Wham-O slides suffered neck injuries or were paralyzed.

Walsh says Wham-O kept shortening the length of the slide. So, bigger people who run faster could more easily hurt themselves.

Package labeling now states an age limit of 12 years old, and that the toy is not for adults. The design also now features an inflatable pool-like reservoir at the end of the slide. It aims to prevent hard stops and flips that could cause injury.

Nominated For The National Toy Hall Of Fame

Despite some problems, Slip 'N Slide remains popular. In 2014, the toy was nominated for The Strong's National Toy Hall of Fame.

As for Slip 'N Slide's inventor, Robert Carrier used money earned from his creation to start an aircraft interior business. Walsh believes the Slip 'N Slide is the most profitable toy Wham-O ever put out. Robert Carrier passed away in 2002, but his invention lives on every summer as kids "slip, slide and away."


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