Friday, January 2, 2009
That's Really Silly
Putty, that is.
Since 1950, more than 300 million eggs of Silly Putty have been sold. And they didn't come from a Silly Putty chicken. If we have to credit someone for the existence of Silly Putty, it would have to be the Japanese. If Japan hadn’t invaded rubber producing countries during World War II in an effort to cut off rubber supplies to the United States, we might never have experienced the joys associated with Silly Putty. So, let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine and find out why, and how, this whole thing started.
Rubber was necessary for producing the rafts, tires, vehicle and aircraft parts, gas masks and boots needed by the American soldiers during the World War II. Because of the need, many products were ratined, including rubber and nylon. American citizens were encouraged to make rubber products last until the end of the war and, to help the war effort, to donate any spare tires, boots and coats that they might own. At the same time, in an attempt to rectify this shortage, the government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds.
There remains some discrepancy over who invented Silly Putty. But the invention credit has been attributed to Earl Warrick of Dow Corning, and James Wright of General Electric. Regardless of who it was, both researchers discovered that mixing boric acid with silicone oil produced a gooey, bouncy material that would bounce, stretch, wouldn’t collect mold and had a very high melting temperature. (Plus you could copy the Sunday comics by pressing it onto the paper! That was my favorite part, except the words were all backwards.)
Great! New invention created to replace rubber. Except the tire test didn't turn out too well. Neither did the one for rafts or gas masks. So, it didn’t solve the problem they had set out to solve, and the new product languished in a laboratory for several years as nothing more than a curiosity. Wright sent samples to scientists all over the world, but no practical use was ever found for the product.
But in 1949, a sample reached Ruth Fallgatter. Ruth owned a toy store and immediately saw the marketing potential. She contacted Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant, to discuss it. The two decided to market the product by selling it in a clear case for $2. The putty quickly outsold every item in Ruth’s catalogue (except for 50 cent Crayola crayons). Despite the fortune it made, Fallgatter lost interest in the product. But Hodgson saw its potential.
Although he was already $12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack one ounce portions into plastic eggs for $1. He gave it the name: Silly Putty. Hodgson sold over 250,000 eggs of silly putty in three days. Hodgson was almost forced out of business in 1951 by the Korean War due to the ration on silicone, the primary ingredient. The restriction on silicone was lifted the following year, and the production of Silly Putty was resumed. Initially, it was primarily targeted towards adults. However, by 1955 the majority of its consumers were aged 6 through 12. In 1957 Hodgson produced the first televised commercial for Slly Putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show. (September 28th post)
In remembering my adventures with Silly Putty, I tried to recall which came first — Silly Putty or the Hula Hoop. I'm not going to tell you. If your memory is better than mine, you'll know. If not, click the link at the end of this sentence and go to the Hula Hoop article. If you want to make your very own Silly Putty at home, it's easy. Just combine the following ingredients:
65% dimethyl siloxane (hydroxy-terminated polymers with boric acid)
17% silica (crystalline quartz)
9% Thixatrol ST (castor oil derivative)
1% decamethyl cyclopentasiloxane
1% glycerine, and 1% titanium dioxide.
I know, it only adds up to 98%. There must be 2% of some secret ingredient that we don’t have in our cabinets, like all that other stuff. Keep in mind, don't mix driving or Silly Putty with alcohol. Like the driver of the car, alcohol causes Silly Putty to lose all of it's best attributes.
If you don't want to take the time or effort to make your own, you can go out and buy some. Crayola now owns the product, and it's still around. Just like we are. And that's a good thing.
Posted by Michael at 12:01 AM