Silly Putty - It bounces, breaks, stretches, and bends and can even pick up newspaper print. It can flow like a liquid in the right circumstances offers hours of creative play. It’s packaged in an egg to prevent it from drying and has a rather identifiable scent that many people associate with childhood.
Silly Putty would not have been invented if it weren’t for the rubber shortages caused by World War II. During the war, rubber was so valuable that it was rationed. Rubber was needed for the war efforts to produce tires, aircraft parts, boots, gas masks and more. Because of the high value of rubber and short supply, researchers spent countless hours trying to develop a rubber alternative.
The result to these efforts was what we now know as Silly Putty. Though not quite the rubber alternative researchers were hoping for, the silicon-based substance wound up being a cheap and wonderful toy that helped lift the spirits of children at a time when it was desperately needed.
Like most inventions, there is some contention when it comes to who should receive credit for the creation. Early Warrick has been credited as the inventor, as has Dow Corning, Harvey Chin and James Wright. There is some belief that multiple people invented Silly Putty independently, and at around the same time. The substance is made by reacting boric acid with silicone oil to create a unique material that transcends traditional properties of solids, liquids and semi-solids.
Silly Putty is non-toxic and will bounce when dropped. It can stretch much further than rubber, is mold-resistant and has a very high melting temperature. It can also break when struck suddenly. Because of this, the putty was not deemed a good alternative to traditional rubber as researchers had hoped.
Fortunately, an enterprising toy store owner named Ruth Fallgatter heard about Silly Putty and recognized its potential. She contacted a market consultant by the name of Peter Hodgson to help her sell the putty. It did not do well in her toy store and Fallgatter abandoned her efforts to market it. However, Hodgson didn’t give up. Already $12,000 in debt, he borrowed another $147 to buy a batch of plastic eggs and some putty. He dubbed the putty-filled eggs Silly Putty. Silly Putty was mentioned in a New Yorker article and sales skyrocketed.
Silly Putty was a best-selling toy for a while until the Korean War nearly put Hodgson out of business. Silicone was a main ingredient in silly putty and was rationed during the war. The business suffered greatly and nearly had to shut down until the restriction on silicone was lifted and production could resume.
Today, Silly Putty is a pop culture icon. It is a toy that nearly every child has played with and it still only costs about $1 for 1 plastic egg. There is no right or wrong way to play with the putty and that flexibility is part of the product’s appeal. Silly Putty is sold worldwide and has even gone to space with the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. After the death of Peter Hodgson, the rights to Silly Putty were acquired by Crayola. Annual sales exceed 6 million eggs. Silly Putty also enjoys a place of honor in the National Toy Hall of Fame.