TheDaily.com By Paul Hiebert
If you’ve already hauled out the Slip ’n Slide during one of these past summer weekends, you’ve participated in a bona fide tradition. The yellow piece of plastic, famous for turning backyards into mini water parks, has become as American as apple pie on the Fourth of July. This year, the Slip ’n Slide celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Since 1961, the California-based toy company Wham-O — which also introduced the nation to Hula-Hoops and Frisbees — has sold more than 30 million Slip ’n Slides, including both the original model and a host of other modern variations such as the Monster Splash and the curved Black Diamond Racer.
According to Tim Walsh, game inventor and author of “Wham-O Super-Book: Celebrating 60 Years Inside the Fun Factory” (Chronicle Books, 2008), the Slip ’n Slide began with a worried father named Robert Carrier.
spraying water onto the family’s concrete driveway, which had a rather smooth finish. For fun, they would then proceed to slide across it.
“With the hose running, they would get a head start deep into the garage, start running and then slide on their butts on the concrete,” said Walsh over the phone from his office in Florida.
“You guys are going to kill yourself,” Carrier would often repeat to the young boys.
Knowing it was unsafe for kids to be running and lunging on such a hard surface — especially one covered with water — Carrier decided that instead of trying to prevent their dangerous behavior, he would provide an alternative. Using the materials available to him as an upholsterer, Carrier cut out a long strip of Naugahyde and sewed a tube lengthwise onto one of its sides. He then punctured the tube intermittently so that when it was attached to a garden hose, water would spurt out evenly onto the Naugahyde. The kids could now slide safely.
Carrier went on to sell his design to Wham-O, which replaced the Naugahyde with plastic to cut down on the cost of production. And just like that, the Slip ’n Slide was primed to become an American summer staple.
“It was an instant hit,” said Molliee Martin, a spokesperson for Wham-O, “and it pretty much has stayed a hit.”
In the first year alone, said Walsh, Wham-O sold 3 million units. In an advertisement Martin provided from the early ’60s, the suggested retail price was $8.95 for a box of six Slip ’n Slides, each measuring 25 feet long by 40 inches wide. The ad heralded the product as a “New Amazing Invention!”
But not everything was bright and sunny. In 1993, after a 13-year-old suffered a fractured neck and a number of adults reported receiving injuries of various degrees in separate incidents between 1973 and 1991, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a statement declaring Slip ’n Slide dangerous for adults and teenagers, warning of potential spinal cord injuries.
“When you’re stronger and older, obviously you can run faster, so their weight and momentum would carry them beyond the end of the Slip ’n Slide and they would jam their necks,” said Walsh of the reported injuries.
Wham-O had to repackage its product. They recommended that users be within a range of ages, which varied depending on the type of slide. Currently, 12 is the highest age deemed appropriate for use.
“On the original packaging, they had adults and kids playing with it, so they clearly didn’t have that restriction yet,” said Walsh. The advertisement Martin provided clearly marked the slide as suitable “for all ages.”
The rebranding has worked, and the simple toy is still a fixture on lawns everywhere.
Richard Gottlieb, CEO of the consulting firm Global Toy Experts, believes the Slip ’n Slide’s longevity is due to its lack of rules and restraints — perhaps the very same qualities that were present on the Carrier driveway over 50 years ago.
“I think too many products that we have today are close-ended in terms of what they provide — they tell you what the end result is supposed to be, and you conform to that,” said Gottlieb, who also noted that most new toys have a short life cycle. “My feeling is that what we have lost is what Slip ’n Slide is all about, which is open-ended free play.”
“It is unusual for a product to maintain for this long,” he added. “And thank God [Slip ’n Slide] didn’t go the way of lawn darts.”
An upholsterer by trade, Carrier would often come home to find his son, Mike, and his neighborhood friends