A Silly Invention

Silly Putty, if you haven’t played with it you’ve probably at least heard of it. Connecticut has had many “serious” inventions: submarines, helicopters, revolving pistols, cotton gins, steamboats etc. But we’ve also had our share of inventions that are just plain fun including theWiffle Ball, Frisbie and of course Silly Putty. This Connecticut invention has gone on to be one of the most successful toys of the past 100 years and it all got started by accident.

Back in 1943, during World War II, James Wright was working for General Electric in New Haven trying to create a man made rubber that the U.S. government could use for the war effort. (Natural rubber was in short supply and needed for tires and other products.) During his work Wright combined Boric acid with silicone oil in a test tube. The mixture turned gooey in the test tube. Wright was so excited that when he pulled it out of the tube he dropped some of the stuff on the ground and to his surprise it bounced!

For several years General Electric tried to find a use for the bouncing, gooey putty mixture. Samples were sent all around the world but no one could come up with a serious use for the product. But it sure was fun to play with! It can bounce, stretch, copy pictures from comic book…….fun stuff.

Eventually the true potential of the putty was found. It was marketed and sold as a kids toy and given the name Silly Putty by Peter Hodgson who bought the rights to the mixture from General Electric. Production was started in a barn in North Branford Connecticut in 1950. Through clever advertising and packaging Silly Putty was soon a hit with kids all across the country. In 1968 Silly Putty entered the space age as it went along for the ride with the Apollo 8 astronauts. (They used it to hold down small tools in the zero gravity space environment.)

In 1977 the Binney & Smith company acquired the rights to Silly Putty. Recent Silly Putty innovations include Putty that changes colors with the warmth of your hand and metallic gold Silly Putty. It has even been featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1950 over 300 million packages of Silly Putty have been sold and Binney and Smith still produce nearly 90 tons of the stuff each year!

Just think, what started as a mistake in a Connecticut factory has turned into one of the most popular toys in history. Now that’s a great Connecticut invention!! Learn more about Silly Putty at www.sillyputty.com


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