The History of Silly Putty

Silly Putty has become one of the most recognizable toys in the world. The part liquid, part solid toy (actually it’s a non-Newtonian fluid!) is loved by children and adults across the globe. But have you ever wondered how Silly Putty was invented? And how did it become so popular? The answers are found when taking a look back at the history of this remarkable material.

It all started during World War II. Rubber had become a scarce resource due to its many military applications. Demand for rubber was so high that in the United States citizens were asked to reuse and recycle their rubber, even going so far as having rationing instituted. The search for rubber alternatives became a major goal for most industrial companies.

One inventor working for General Electric, a Mr. James Wright, discovered that mixing boric acid with silicone oil produced a material with unique properties. It would bounce when thrown against a wall or floor, yet it had a gooey composition. Unfortunately it did not make for a good industrial rubber replacement. Despite Wright’s efforts to have other scientists experiment with the material, no uses could be found.

That is until 1949 when a toy store owner by the name of Ruth Fallgatter and marketing consultant Peter Hodgson teamed up to market the bouncing putty. They ran an ad in a catalog selling the putty, and it quickly became one of the best selling items. Hodgson saw more potential for the item and began packaging it in 1 oz plastic eggs. It was an immediate hit. 250,000 eggs of Silly Putty, as it was then named, were sold in just three days.

While originally marketed to adults, by 1955 the majority of consumers were children under the age of 12. In 1957 the first television commercials for Silly Putty were aired during the Howdy Doody Show. By 1961 the novelty had stretched across the world, becoming popular across Europe and the Soviet Union. It’s popularity was so strong that Apollo 8 astronauts brought Silly Putty to the moon.

Peter Hodgson died in 1976, and Silly Putty was sold to Binney and Smith, the makers of Crayola products. They kept the tradition of selling putty in small plastic eggs, and by 1987 Silly Putty was selling over two million eggs every year. Today it remains one of the most popular toys in countries all around the globe.