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The Not-So-Silly Science of ‘Silly Putty’

sillyputtyA Silly Mistake?

No one set out to develop Silly Putty: it was a novelty by-product during research aiming at new silicone elastomers to replace scarce rubber. In 1943, an engineer at General Electric, James Wright, was working in the New Haven laboratory when he accidentally dropped boric acid into silicone oil: the result was a bouncing silicone putty. The new material stretched more than rubber, even at high temperatures, but it also had some more interesting and unusual properties. Over long timescales or at high temperatures it flowed like a fluid. But at shorter timescales it bounced and behaved like an elastic solid. GE started marketing it, but it only really took off when the novelty value of this new material caught the attention of Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant. He bought the rights from GE, and started marketing his ‘solid liquid’ as ‘Silly Putty®’.

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