Silly putty was developed as a possible rubber substitute for the World War II effort. It was 1940, and Japan is invading rubber-producing countries in the far east. World War II is raging, and America needs the rubber to produce truck tires and boot soles, so American industry is asked to come up with a synthetic rubber. In 1943 an engineer working for General Electric, James Wright, combines boric acid and silicone oil. As he removes the gooey result from the test tube, some drops to the floor and Bouncing Putty is discovered.
General Electric searches for a practical use for Bouncing Putty but none is found. In 1949, Ruth Falgatter, owner of the Block Shop toy store decides to list the substance in her toy catalog. A clear, compact case of the substance is offered for $2. To her surprise, the Bouncing Putty outsells all other items in the catalog but one. For some reason, Falgatter decides not to continue marketing the substance. Marketing consultant Peter Hodgson, however sees the potential of the putty, and borrows $147 for a batch and packs it into plastic eggs to be sold for $1. He comes up with the name Silly Putty because he says it best sums up the product.
Over the next year, Hodgson is discouraged from continuing with Silly Putty by most toy experts. His perseverance, however does get the eggs offered in a few large outlets. He opens up a production center in a converted barn and ships the putty in egg boxes donated by the Connecticut Cooperative Poultry Association. His big break is just around the corner.
In August of 1950, a writer for the New Yorker magazine discovers Silly Putty in a Doubleday bookstore and writes a story on it in The Talk of the Town. Hodgson receives orders for 250,000 eggs in three days.
In 1951, due to raw material shortages for the Korean War, the government applies restrictions to silicone and Hodgson is out of business. He has 1500 pounds of silly putty left, which he uses to fill backorders. In 1952 the restriction is lifted and production of Silly Putty resumes.
Silly Putty is about to change hands. When it was first produced, it was marketed as a novelty item mainly to adults. By 1955, it is most popular with children ages 6-12. In one of the first marketing campaigns aimed at children, in 1957 Silly Putty ads begin appearing on the Howdy Doody Show and Captain Kangeroo.
In the 1960s, Silly Putty goes international, and then, in 1968 it actually goes extraterrestrial when it travels to the moon with Apollo 8 astronauts. Silly Putty increases in popularity, and when Peter Hodgson dies in 1976, he leaves an estate of $140 million. The rights to Silly Putty are sold to Binney and Smith, the makers of Crayola products in 1976, and by the mid 1980's the annual sales have grown to over 2 million eggs.
Silly Putty was included in a Smithsonian Institute display in 2000, part of an exhibit that showed objects that helped shape American culture. A Silly Putty scientist's notebook from the 1960s is also part of the Smithsonian's archive center. Silly Putty has arrived!