Many products have been created or discovered by accident and Silly Putty might be one of the most popular and best selling mistakes of all time.
During World War II there was a shortage of rubber in the United States. The government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds in an attempt to solve this shortage. Silly Putty was created in 1943 during this pursuit. The new product had useful qualities: it bounced like rubber, stretched like taffy and had adhesive qualities; it also broke into pieces and had the ability to lift pencil marks off paper. However, Silly Putty was not the sought-after substitute for rubber.
Silly Putty was called Nutty Putty when the little pink blob made of silicone polymers packaged in an egg-shaped plastic container made its debut as a toy in 1949. Its sales soared to the top of the toy chart that year. In 1961, Silly Putty went worldwide. It even reached the Moon in 1968, courtesy of the Apollo 8 astronauts who used it to secure their tools in zero-gravity.
After its success as a toy, Silly Putty was found to be useful in medical and scientific fields. It is widely used by physical therapists for rehabilitative therapy of hand injuries and as a fidget item for stress reduction. A number of other brands have emerged which alter the material's properties offering different levels of resistance, color and size of the product. Some of the names it is marketed under are Power Putty, TheraPutty, Thinking Putty and Bouncing Putty.
To date, Silly Putty has sold over 300 million eggs. Crayola, LLC (formerly the Binney & Smith company), which also owns Crayola crayons, owns the trademark name Silly Putty and currently sells 20,000 units per day.
It doesn't look like this American icon has to worry about popularity as its unique qualities continue to provide fun, exercise and stress relief to users of all ages all over the world.
Image courtesy of Eugene Peretz.