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History of a Few Accidental Inventions

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 1

Accidental Inventions

History of Post-It Notes and Silly Putty

Knowing a bit of trivia to quote off the top of one's head is a good thing in sparking conversation.  An interesting take on that plan is to learn about two "accidental inventions."  

Post It-Notes, Accidental Invention #1

Who does not have the lovable notes in the desk, briefcase or purse?  How they came about is all one big accident.  Back in 1970, 3M put out the challenge to its engineers to come up with a strong adhesive.  Spencer Silver in fact came up with a formula.  The problem was it wasn't stronger than what 3M already had.  This formula of Spencer's was interesting though an

Post-It Notes(76720)
d possessed unique characteristics for an adhesive.  It stuck to things but was easily taken off.  The folks at 3M went on about their business, and no one really knew what to do with the concoction Silver invented.  He kept it though.  Why not?

Enter Arthur Fry into the 3M story four years later.  Besides working at 3M, Arthur sang in his church choir.  A problem perplexed him each week as he sang.  He kept his place in the hymnal by using paper markers, but they kept falling off.  He remembered the substance concocted by Silver.  The clever Fry used some of the sticky stuff  to coat the back of his markers.  They stayed in place but did no damage to the pages when removed.  Now there's the Post-It Note characteric loved worldwide.

The rest as one would say is history.  In 1980, ten years after the invention of the not too strong glue,  3M began distributing the now ubiquitous Post-it Notes nationwide.  The little marvels now come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and certainly qualify as a favorite office supply!

Silly Putty, Accidental Invention # 2

Remember Silly Putty?  Look at a toy store shelf.  The wonderful little eggs filled with goo stay in production today.  The story of Silly Putty goes all the way back to World War II.  Rubber needed for war provisions such as tires, boots, and gas masks was in short supply.  Japanese forces attacked rubber supply plants in Asia. The United States government asked citizens to donate all things containing rubber and to conserve on use of rubber items like tires.  Rationing gas helped on that task. 

Silly Putty(76722)

Efforts on the donation and conservation fronts helped, but the government asked United States companies to invent a synthetic rubber as well.  In 1943 in his lab in Connecticut, James Wright did just that.  One could say he tried to do that.  The engineer developed a substance but it did not end up possessing the properties to replace rubber.  He noticed something interesting about his mixture of boric acid and silicone oil in the test tube.  It formed a gob of goo with strange characteristics.  The goo bounced when formed in a ball and dropped, stretched further than rubber,  did not mold, and had a high melting temperature.  Somehow Wright felt that a need for the substance existed somewhere, somehow.  He sent out samples to scientists worldwide to see what they could come up with.  Nothing.  No success.

The scientists found no true use for the substance but stayed amused by the "nutty putty."  The substance no doubt circulated around for fun, but still no purpose arose.  Then, in 1949, Ruth Fallgatter, the owner of a toy store, happened upon the substance through one of the scientists.  An advertising consultant convinced Ruth  to package a bit of the goo in plastic and advertise it in her toy catalog for $2.00.  The "bouncing putty" outsold every other item in her catalog that year except Crayola Crayons.  Who knows why, but Fallgatter dropped the new marvel from her catalog after the first year.

Peter Hodgson was the advertising consultant who convinced the toy store owner to put it in the catalog.  Hodgson was in debt and saw an opportunity when Fallgatter dropped the item.  He borrowed a whopping $147 and bought a large amount of the goo.  He had Yale University students package 1 ounce portions into red plastic eggs. He renamed his product "Silly Putty," put a $1 price tag on it and headed out to the International Toy Fair in New York City in 1950.  Unfortunately most buyers did not see potential.  Not  dissuaded, Hodgson convinced Neiman Marcus and Doubleday Bookstores to put the eggs on their shelves for sale as a novelty.  

Enter into one of those locations a reporter from The New Yorker who bought an egg and found it fascinating.  He wrote an article in the  The New Yorker, Talk of the Town section, in 1950.  By 1955, the product, now classified as a toy, was a huge success.  By 1957, advertisements for the bright-colored eggs and their delightful contents aired on Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody shows.  

In 1968, astronauts took Silly Putty to the moon.  In the 1950s the Smithsonian put in an exhibit featuring it.  In 1977  Crayola bought the rights to the classic substance.  A contest once asked participants to give the top 50 uses for Silly Putty.  Now that's good trivia to share!

What To Do With This Information?

Be the life of the party?  Win trivia games?  Just buy some Silly Putty.  No doubt Post-It Notes already live in the office or home drawers.  The next time a lull in the conversation occurs, pull out the two marvels for a bit of storytelling.  OK, if all that fails, just enjoy knowing a little bit of their history the next time the two accidental inventions enter the scene. 


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Comments

Jan 16, 2012 9:30am
Tom_Carver
Great article. I love reading about such inventions and how they came into being. Very enjoyable.
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