During World War II, chemists across the nation were working hard to produce synthetic rubber, an essential war material which had previously been imported mainly from the Far East, a situation which was proving impractical. James Wright was working for General Electric at the time, when one day he dropped a bit of boric acid into a container holding silicon oil. The resulting substance was found to have interesting properties - it was found to be incredibly pliable at varying temperatures, for example. Calling the stuff 'nutty putty,' Wright shared his discovery with other chemists but it was found not to be a good substitute for rubber and thus was of no use to the government.
By 1949, however, various people were holding occasional 'nutty putty' parties, at which the amused guests would play with the stuff, bouncing it like a ball, stretching and breaking it, or even using it to lift images from newspapers and comic books, due to the surface ink sticking to the stuff. Peter Hodgson was a former advertising copywriter who was running a local toy store; he immediately saw the marketing potential for such a toy and bought the marketing rights from GE. Hodgson bought $147 worth of the goo and divided it into one-ounce slices, which he packaged into little plastic eggs for the benefit of the upcoming Easter holiday. Renaming it Silly Putty, Hodgson sold the eggs for one dollar each. A favorable mention in The New Yorker helped spread the stuff's popularity and a toy legend was born.
I was introduced to Silly Putty one day as a small boy when I had my pal Greg Million from across the street over to play in my house - a rare treat. He showed me how to spread the stuff over comics pages and then stretch the resulting image, as well as myriad other uses. Silly Putty has been a favorite of American kids since the 1950's, and a couple million of the eggs are still sold every year. Reportedly, on Hodgson's death in 1976, his estate was worth $140 million.
Silly Putty is composed of:
65% - Dimethyl Siloxane, hydroxy-terminated polymers with boric acid
17% - Silica, quartz crystalline
9% - Thixotrol ST
4% - Polydimethylsiloxane
1% - Decamethyl cyclopentasiloxane
1% - Glycerine
1% - Titanium Dioxide