You can stretch it, bounce it, and even use it to copy comics from the newspaper.
But did you know Silly Putty was originally considered useless?
Original Need = Synthetic Rubber
During World War II there was a high demand for products made out of rubber – tires, gas masks, soldiers’ boots, rafts, etc. Unfortunately the countries which produced rubber could not meet the demand so companies in the United States began experimenting, trying to find a way to create synthetic rubber.
In 1944 James Wright was working on this effort as an engineer at General Electric. Wright was conducting experiments with silicon and one day added silicon oil and boric acid together. The result was an interesting gooey substance. This new substance would bounce, stretch, and withstand high temperatures. But, there was a problem – it would not hold its shape.
Fun Over Function
For several years Wright sent samples of the goo to scientists around the world. Although they thought it was interesting, scientists and engineers could not find a practical use for it.
In the early 1950’s Peter Hodgson, an advertising consultant, had the idea to place this interesting substance in small red plastic egg shaped containers and market it as a toy. Because the goo could be bounced, shaped, and used in a variety of entertaining ways Hodgson decided to name it “Silly Putty”.
For more than 50 years Silly Putty has been a favorite of adults and children. Over the years it has been called a “Real Solid Liquid” and a “toy with one moving part.”
Although Wright’s goo was not used for its intended purpose, it has been used and enjoyed by people all around the world. It has even been used in a few scientific applications over the years as well. It traveled into space on the Apollo 8 mission and has been used in zoos to take foot impressions of animals.
Make Your Own Silly Putty
This is one of my kids’ favorite homeschool science activities. We have called it Flubber, Gak and Silly Putty – no matter the name, it is always fun and easy to make.
- White Glue
- Food Coloring (optional)
- 2 Bowl, Mixing Spoon, Measuring Cup, Measuring Spoon
- Plastic re-sealable bag
- Mix ¼ cup of white glue with ¼ cup of water in a bowl. Stir until water and glue are completely combined.
- Add food coloring (if desired) and stir until combined.
- Place 1 tablespoon of Borax in a separate bowl. Add 1/8 cup of water. Stir for 1-2 minutes until borax is dissolved. If some of the Borax is still “grainy” your silly putty won’t be as smooth.
- Add the Borax mixture to the glue mixture and stir. As you stir the substance will begin to congeal. If it’s too wet or sticky, add a little more Borax. Continue to stir until the mixture all sticks together.
- Take the substance out of the bowl and knead it with your hands for about 5 minutes to get a smooth consistency.
- Store in plastic re-sealable bag, in the refrigerator. When removed from the refrigerator let it warm to room temperature for about 10 minutes.
If you would like to learn about more inventors and their mistakes, let us recommend one of our kids’ current favorite books – Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones.
Learn the stories behind the ice cream cone, popsicles, chocolate chip cookies, the Frisbee Disc, Ivory Soap and more!
Join us this week as we take a look at some of our favorite inventors, and their inventions, to understand the successes and failures they encountered and the important lessons they learned along the way.
This post is linked up to the Finishing Strong link-up.