The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions
11. Silly Putty
You can stretch it. You can bounce it. You can throw it.
The eraser-colored goo was not intended to become one of America’s favorite childhood toys, but actually a synthetic substitute for rubber during World War II. Rubber – used for tires, gas masks, life rafts, and boots – was essential for the war. With Japan attacking many rubber-manufacturing countries in Asia, America was in a pickle. Citizens were asked to donate any old tires, rain boots, coats, and anything else made of rubber.
But it still wasn’t enough. The government reached out to companies to invent a synthetic rubber with similar properties.
In 1943, James Wright, an engineer working for General Electric, entered the scene. Wright just happened to combine boric acid and silicone oil in one of his test tubes, creating the goo that would eventually fill hours of playtime.
The goo could rebound and stretch more than traditional rubber, had a very high melting temperature, and did not collect mold. Although the “nutty putty” didn’t contain the properties needed to replace rubber, Wright hoped there would be some conventional use for it.
However, the government was not interested. Wright sent samples of it to scientists around the country and they, too, were not interested. However, partygoers found the goo very entertaining.
In 1949, a second character entered the scene: the unemployed Peter Hodgson, who saw an opportunity. He borrowed $147 to buy the rights from GE and began producing the goo, which he renamed Silly Putty. He packaged it in plastic eggs because it was close to Easter.
Soon children across the country wanted Silly Putty. Kids could stretch and distort their favorite comic book heroes by slapping the putty down on printed pages. It became one of the fastest selling toys in America’s history.