A government program to synthesize rubber led to one of America’s favorite toys.
In the 1940s, the U.S. War Production Board gave General Electric an assignment:
Come up with a cheap synthetic rubber substitute.
While doing research, GE engineer James Wright mixed boric acid into silicone oil and created a gooey like substance.
He accidentally dropped the stuff, and it started bouncing around the lab.
It seemed to have lots of good qualities… The ink from a newspaper could be imprinted on it, just by smoothing it against a newspaper. but unfortunately, it was a lousy rubber substitute. Aside from entertaining GE visitors, it had little purpose.
Enter marketing guy Paul Hodgson.
Paul was approached by toy shop owner Ruth Fallgatter in 1949. Silly Putty had attracted her attention, and she wanted Hodgson’s help selling it. They showcased the product in a toy catalog, and it outsold everything but crayons.
Fallgatter was pleased with the experiment, but had no interest in doing anything more with the strange synthetic substance. But to Hodgson, it screamed potential.
Being $12,000 in debt, he borrowed $147 dollars to buy some of the goo from GE.
Easter was coming, so he put it into a plastic Easter eggs, and called it Silly Putty.
After initial success selling the product, he quickly buy production rights from GE.
The boom hit when he ran a Silly Putty TV spot on the Howdy Doody show.
The man who was $12,000 in debt when he started selling Silly Putty , was worth $140 million when he died in 1976.
Paul Hodgson exemplifies one of our Axioms For Entrepreneurs: Open your eyes to new trends.
Where others saw a failed rubber substitute, he saw a toy. Silly Putty.
Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?