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Silly Putty (General Electric, 1944)

In 1944, General Electric chemists invented silicone, a sand-based product that could be used to make synthetic rubber (and a whole slew of other items).

Some properties of the rubber: it could bounce like a ball when rolled up, stretch like taffy when stretched or if left alone in one place would flatten like a pancake. These chemists weren’t inventive enough and could not figure out any uses for it. They essentially chucked the silicone out and forgot about it.

Five years later Peter Hodgson, a New Haven, Connecticut advertising copywriter found a sample and his imagination was immediately activated. He got the rights for the name “Silly Putty,” purchased $150 worth of the rubber, placed a one-ounce piece in plastic egg containers and sold them through retail stores or catalogs. By Christmas of that year, Hodgson had sold over one million units.

During the Korean War the government placed controls on silicone. Hodgson was forced to rebuild his business. Two years later, he was raking in $5 million a year. Silly Putty has been delighting people ever since its “useless” beginning in 1944.