Back to all articles

The History of Silly Putty

Due to the Japanese invasion of Asia during World War II, America’s supply of rubber was threatened. In response, chemists at General Electric began searching for a substitute. A chemist named James Wright stumbled upon a unique material – it was stretchy, withstood decay, and bounced 25% higher than rubber. It behaved almost like a “solid liquid,” flowing in slow motion, but it also broke into pieces when struck sharply. Wright never did find a wartime use for his “bouncing putty” or “nutty putty,” but toy maker Peter Hodgson decided to list it in his catalog. He called it “Silly Putty” and sold it in small plastic eggs, debuting the new product just in time for Easter. Silly Putty truly took off after an article in The New Yorker featured the product in 1950, with orders exceeding 250,000 in just 3 days. In the 1990s, new colors were added, including a glow-in-the-dark variety. Today, the toy continues to be popular, but it’s also been used for more practical purposes over the years, such as cleaning typewriter keys. It’s even been to space – the astronauts aboard Apollo 8 used Silly Putty to stick tools in place in zero gravity!

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.