Silly Putty (originally called nutty putty, and also known as Potty Putty) is a silicone plastic, marketed today as a toy for children, but originally created as an accident during the course of research into potential rubber substitutes for use by the United States during World War II. During World War II, the USA was looking for a synthetic rubber compound because of the difficulties in obtaining natural rubber from the Far East.
In researching this problem, James Wright of General Electric reacted boric acid with silicone oil and produced a gooey material – though it bounced it was certainly not a rubber substitute. No uses for it were found until the 1950s when its potential as a toy was realised. It was after its success as a toy that other uses were found. It has found applications in medical and scientific simulations, and has also been used in stress-reduction and physical therapy. In the home it can be used to pick up dirt, lint and pet hair, and it was even used by Apollo astronauts to secure tools in zero-gravity.
Silly Putty is an inorganic polymer, noted for its many unusual characteristics: It bounces, but breaks when given a sharp blow. It can also flow like a liquid and will form a puddle given enough time.
Silly Putty is composed of 65% dimethyl siloxane (hydroxy-terminated polymers with boric acid), 17% silica (crystalline quartz), 9% Thixatrol ST (castor oil derivative), 4% polydimethylsiloxane, 1% decamethyl cyclopentasiloxane, 1% glycerine, and 1% titanium dioxide.
Silly Putty's unusual flow characteristics are due to the ingredient polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a viscoelastic liquid. Viscoelasticity is a type of non-Newtonian flow, characterizing material that acts as a viscous liquid over a long time period but as an elastic solid over a short time period. Silly Putty has sometimes been characterized as a dilatant fluid. However, according to the science of rheology, this isn't strictly correct and it's more accurate to characterize it as a viscoelastic or rheopectic liquid.
Silly Putty is also a fairly good adhesive. When newspaper ink was easier to rub off, Silly Putty could be used to transfer newspaper images to other surfaces, possibly after introducing distortion. Newer papers are more resistant to this activity.
Silly Putty is sold as a 0.47 oz (13 g) piece of plastic clay inside an egg-shaped plastic container. It is available in various colors, including glow-in-the-dark and metallic. The brand is owned by Crayola LLC (formerly the Binney & Smith company), which also owns Crayola crayons. Today, twenty thousand eggs of Silly Putty are produced daily. Since 1950, more than 300 million eggs of Silly Putty have been sold, or approximately 4500 tons.
History of Silly Putty
Silly Putty's origin was due to a wartime accident. During World War II, Japan invaded rubber producing countries in order to cut off the United States supply of rubber. It was needed in order to produce tires for vehicles, boots for soldiers, gas masks, rafts, and even bombers. To help combat the lack of rubber US citizens were asked to donate any rubber around their house such as spare tires, rubber boots, and rubber rain coats. All rubber made products were rationed and citizens had to make their products last till the end of the war. Also in response the government asked producers to try and come up with a synthetic rubber compound.
In 1943, James Wright, a Scottish engineer, worked for General Electric in a New Haven, Conn., laboratory. Combining a boric acid and silicone oil, Wright had ended up with a putty that had some unique properties. The putty would bounce when dropped, and could stretch farther than regular rubber, wouldn't collect mold, and had a very high melting temperature. Unfortunately the substance didn't contain the properties needed to replace rubber. In 1945 hoping there was a use for his new developed putty Wright sent a sample to scientists all around the world, but no practical use was ever found. Finally, in 1949, the putty reached the owner of a toy store, Ruth Fallgatter, who contacted Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant, to produce her catalog and discuss bouncing putty. The two decided to market their bouncing putty selling it in a clear case for $2. The putty outsold every item in the catalogue except for 50-cent Crayola crayons. Despite the fortune it made, Fallgatter didn't pursue it any more, but Hodgson saw its potential.
Already $12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack one ounce portions into plastic eggs for $1, calling it silly putty. After making progress in the industry, even selling over 250,000 eggs of silly putty in three days, Hodgson was almost put out of business in 1951 by the Korean War. Silicone, a main ingredient in silly putty, was put on ration, hurting his business. In 1952, a year later, the restriction on silicone was lifted and silly putty production resumed. In the beginning, its target market was mainly adults. However, by 1955 the majority of the consumers were aged 6 through 12. In 1957 Hodgson produced the first televised commercial for silly putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show.
In 1961, Silly Putty went worldwide, becoming a hit in the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Switzerland. Silly Putty went to the moon in 1968 with the Apollo 8 astronauts.
Peter Hodgson died in 1976. A year later, Binney and Smith, the makers of Crayola products, acquired the rights to Silly Putty. By 1987, Silly Putty had pushed sales to over two million eggs annually.