Silly Putty

Silly Putty

Synopsis of Toy

"The toy with one moving part."

You don’t want to eat Silly Putty. You also don't want to light it on fire or drop it from high elevations (it shatters). But just about anything else goes. Anything. Keep it on the desk or the car, then stretch and knead it to alleviate stress. Sculpt it into various and sundry objet d'art, you little Michelangelo, you. Press it against a newspaper comic or possibly that precious newspaper engagement photo of your one-that-got-away and his, well, gorgeous bride and offer a heartfelt congratulations to the couple's likeness (good sport that you are). Then zealously twist and scrunch said preciousness into putty oblivion (because good-sportedness can be fleeting). Jam it under a wobbly table leg and impress your not-so-handy dinner companions. Remove lint from your clothes, clean your typewriter keys, bounce it, bowl it, juggle it, plug a leak with it. Just put it back in its plastic egg home when you’re done, because anything this versatile deserves a little protective beauty sleep.

In the early 1940’s, a New Haven, Connecticut engineer named James Wright was busy trying to design an inexpensive synthetic rubber. When he dropped a little boric acid into silicone oil, he got what he wanted, sort of. The resulting goo was certainly stretchy and bouncy, but General Electric, whom Wright was under contract to, didn’t fall in love. But the putty was not to be denied.

A few years later, an out-of-work ad man named Peter Hodgson came upon the “nutty putty” or “gupp,” as it was nicknamed back then—some say at a party, and some say at a toy store. Replete with a vision of the putty as a mass-produced toy, Hodgson borrowed money, bought the rights from GE, and bought a load of the stuff. He christened it Silly Putty, and sold one-ounce portions inside of plastic eggs, because Easter was coming up. Thanks to a piece in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section, sales were brisk, and the Putty has remained on the toy scene ever since. Hodgson died in 1976, a very rich man.

In 1961, our favorite polymer was featured at the Plastics Expo in Moscow. In 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 carted it up to space in a specially-designed silver egg casing, and used it to fasten down tools in zero-gravity. These days, Binney & Smith, the folks who bring crayons to coloring books and walls near you, make and distribute the Putty. In 1990, four fluorescent colors hit the shelves, and in 1991, Glow in the Dark putty arrived on the toy scene. Everybody loves a good gimmick, but the Classic Putty is still the best-selling putty of all. Upwards of six million eggs are hatched every year, two million in the U.S. alone.

Oh, the paths that Putty has traveled. From a lab to the toy store, from a novelty to a staple, from the sweaty palms of kids to the clammy palms of stressed-out adults. We salute the plastic egg, and the egg's malleable contents.

Release History of Toy

1950 - Silly Putty
1990 - Four flourescent colors introduced
1991 - Glow in the Dark putty introduced

Sub Categories of Toys


Toy and Game Manufacturer

Peter Hodgson, Binney & Smith

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