Published on August 14th, 2014 | by David0
The Story of Silly Putty
For part 1 in our series on toys sponsored by Flobbles we’re going to look at Silly Putty. Like all great scientific accomplishments, from penicillin to that time my buddy Kyle ate Mentos and Coke at the same time, the discovery of Silly Putty was an accident.
In World War 2 rubber products were rationed in the United States. Rubber was so rare that people were asked to donate their old boots and tires to the government so that they could be melted down and reused. This wasn’t enough, so the United States government funded research to find an alternative to rubber so that the soldiers would have life rafts and the people at home would have fewer wet socks.
James Wright was one of those researchers. He was experimenting with silicone oil, hoping that by mixing it with just the right chemicals he’d revolutionize rain boots forever. Unfortunately, the gooey substance he found in his test tube wasn’t going to make the best footwear. At this point in some tellings of the story he furiously threw his test tube on the ground and it bounced right back up at him. He did a few experiments on this gooey monstrosity and put it away until after the war.
You know how your fictional uncle is always pulling a penny out of your ear at parties. That’s what Wright’s goo became for a while after the war. Somehow the goo started making its way around the party circuit where guests would play with it and ooh an aah. One of those guests was Ruth Fallgatter, a toy store owner. This seems like the part of the story where the toy makes it onto shelves and everyone loves it, but there’s one part missing.
Enter, Montreal born, Peter Hodgson an unemployed advertiser. He heard about Silly Putty through Ruth and decided it would be his big break. Already $12,000 in debt he borrowed $147 to start his empire. He named the goo Silly Putty and started selling it to adults. Wait, what? Yeah, he thought it would make a great adult novelty toy. It finally took off when he realized kids would like it more and took out an advertising slot on the most popular (and only) kids shows of the time, Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo.
Years later Silly Putty is a household name, and some practical uses have been discovered for it. You can use it to clean up dirt from almost any surface. It’s used in physical therapy like a stress ball. It was even taken into space. That’s right, the Apollo 8 astronauts used it to stick their tools to the table in space. Not bad for an accident, eh?