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As Seen on TV: Silly Putty

Is there a Baby Boomer who did not own at least one egg of Silly Putty at some point in their childhood?

Much more than a fad, the stuff still sells over six million eggs a year!

And just think, we have the Japanese of World War II to thank for it!

You see, in the early months of the Second World War, the Japanese quickly invaded and took over the major rubber-producing countries. Rubber was vital to the American war effort. So in addition to rationing rubber back home, the search was on to find a rubber substitute.

Credit for the substance goes to Earl Warrick at Dow Chemical as well as James Wright at General Electric. Working independently, these gentlemen added boric acid to silicone oil. A few other minor ingredients were added and viola – Silly Putty! Only neither company called it that. In fact, both companies could see no use for the stuff.  While the stuff bounced like a ball, could stretch more that rubber and snapped apart if you smashed it hard, it just wasn’t stable enough to replace rubber. The stuff tended to form a puddle if left alone long enough.

So Wright patented the stuff, but nothing came of it. Until 1949.

For reasons lost to history, a toy shop owner Ruth Fallgatter came across the substance. She thought she might be able to sell it. She called a marketing consultant named Peter Hodgson. Together they named it Silly Putty, put it in a clear plastic case and onto the shelves of Ruth’s shop. The stuff sold pretty well. But Ruth saw it as a limited fad and really wasn’t interested in trying to sell a second batch.

So Hodgson went out on his own. He borrowed $147 to buy a batch of Silly Putty and then had his really genius idea. Because the stuff tended to melt went left alone for long periods of time, Hodgson hit on the idea of packaging Silly Putty inside plastic eggs.

At first, sales were slow, but then he convinced New Yorker magazine to run an article about it. He sold 250,000 eggs of Silly Putty at $1 an egg in three days.

In 1955, Silly Putty became one of the first toys to be sold via television when Hodgson bought time on The Howdy Doody Show.

Pete Hodgson passed away in 1976. One year later, the rights to the toy where acquired by Binney & Smith, the makers of Crayola crayons.

Today, Silly Putty is sold in countries all over the world. It’s been up in space with the astronauts. And in 2001, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Oh, and if you get some caught in you hair or it melts all over the sofa, the manufacturer recommends using alcohol. No, not the kind you drink. The kind you should rub on the Silly Putty.

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