December 20, 2008

12 Toys of Christmas: 6 Silly Putties

What is Silly Putty? It squishes, stretches, bounces- you can even use it to lift images from the newspaper. This toy has been amusing kids and adults alike for the past 50 years. It seems like every time you pick it up, you can find something new to do with it. But did you ever wonder how it came to be? As it turns out, Silly Putty is an accidental creation from World War II. Silly Putty has its own website with all the Silly Putty information you could ever want to know, including the following history:

During World War II, the Japanese invaded rubber producing countries in the Far East which cut off supply to the United States. This restricted war production efforts- especially for tires and boots. As a result, the War Production Board asked American industry to create a synthetic rubber compound.

James Wright, an engineer with General Electric mixed boric acid and silicone oil in a test tube which resulted in a polymerized substance- that wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for. He removed the gooey putty from the test tube and threw it on the floor… and it bounced! General Electric sent the gooey putty to several engineers, hoping to find a use for it, but no practical uses were discovered.

It finally caught the attention of Ruth Fallgater, owner of the Block Shop toy store. Along with marketing consultant Peter Hodgson, she decided to sell the putty in her catalog. The putty outsold everything in the catalog except for a box of hexagonal shaped crayons. Seeing the potential in the putty, Hodgson bought a large batch of it and sold it in plastic egg containers, finally giving it the name of Silly Putty.

In 1950, a magazine writer found the Silly Putty and wrote about it. Following the publication of the story, Hodgson received orders for more than a quarter million eggs in three days. Over the next 5 years, Silly Putty transitioned from a novelty item mostly used by adults to a popular kid’s toy.

In 1961, Silly Putty was introduced to the rest of the world, and in 1968 it was taken to the moon. By 1987, 2 million eggs were being sold each year. To this day, Silly Putty continues to be a popular item amongst kids of all ages.

For more information on Silly Putty, including some of its silliest uses, check out the Silly Putty website!

By: Jessica McGrail

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