Remember Silly Putty? The rubbery stuff, in the egg?
It stretches, it bounces, it copies pictures out of comic books.
Yeah, that stuff.
It was invented in Schenectady!
Unless it wasn't.
But it probably was.
Like most stories of invention, the one behind Silly Putty has its competing claims. But a new exhibit at the Schenectady Museum traces the wonderful rubbery substance to a failed experiment at a GE lab in Schenectady.
It all started when GE researcher James Wright incorrectly labeled a chemical during an experiment in the 1940s.
Wright was working on creating a synthetic rubber. During World War II, the US feared being cut off from natural rubber supplies in Japan. They needed rubber to make tires, boots and gas masks, so GE and other research companies went to work on a rubber substitute.
As the story goes, Wright incorrectly labeled an ingredient, and the substance he created bounced when it accidentally landed on the floor. He sent the new substance to other engineers to see if they could find use for it.
Eventually it made its way to a toy store owner -- Ruth Fallgatter -- in New Haven, Connecticut. The idea for the egg shaped container came from a marketer, Peter Hodgson, who had a lot to do with the toy's early success.
Silly Putty says that Wright was the actual inventor, but where it was discovered is the fact that's fuzzy. The company claims Wright was in New Haven at the time of the discovery.
Schenectady says it was discovered here, at GE Research.
Chris Hunter, the curator at the Schenectady Museum says they verified Schenectady's claim in a variety of ways: They referenced articles from the time period. They found information in a 1960s book, Silicones Under the Monogram, that supported the Schenectady story, and they obtained anecdotal reports from locals living in the area at the time that Wright lived in the area (and that kids living in GE's surrounding neighborhoods would get samples of the bouncy putty).
And New Haven doesn't seem to be staking a claim to the stretchable, moldable, bounceable substance. The New Haven Museum has a list of "New Haven Firsts" on its website, including the invention of the frisbee, phone book and tape measure. There's no mention of the putty. If something that fun came from your town -- wouldn't you tell people about it?
Fun facts about Schenectady's Silly Putty
+ From Schenectady to the moon -- Silly Putty traveled on Apollo 8.
+ Doctors and physical therapists use it for stress-reduction and p.t.
+ According to Dr. Joe Schwarcz' book The Genie in the Bottle, the idea for Disney's film Flubber (a remake of The Absent Minded Professor from 1961) is based around the experiments of scientists trying to make rubber-like substances in the 1940s and 50s
+ You can try to make a homemade version of Silly Putty with this recipe. Or you can buy it (and shatter it with a hammer, stretch it until it breaks, or a number of other fun activities) in the museum store at the Schenectady Museum
+ Always put your Silly Putty back in its egg. And remember there's nothing else like it.
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.