Friday, December 31, 2010


When my dad died in June of 1976, Silly Putty and Arnold Clark had been experiencing some of their best years. Silly Putty had grown to be a multi-million dollar company. I remember daddy telling me a week before he died that they were doing a booming business in Africa.

Someone else "invented" Silly Putty (exactly who is, apparently, disputed*). Pete had the brilliant idea to market it as a toy. Pete built the brand. But I think my dad played a very major part in building the company into a multi-million dollar business as it was he who was in charge of the day to day business of Silly Putty. My dad was all about routine, consistency, loyalty, and attention to detail. Willie Ruff said that "Pete was candid about the fact that Bill was the engine that steered the whole thing" and Mr. Ruff commented that "Bill was the man". Mr. Ruff also indicated that in the early days "Bill was running the show on Temple Street".

In researching this subject I am hearing about more of the folks who were involved in Silly Putty and talking to these people is fascinating. I am just now getting the adult perspective. I just hope that it is not too late to speak with many of the people who were involved in this silly enterprise.

Right after my dad died, I believe that Pete took over the day to day operation of the business. Two months later he was also dead. My father never owned a portion of the company. I'm not sure if he was ever offered ownership in the company. He received a salary. His salary was substantial for the times, it fueled a nice lifestyle for our family, and I am sure that he had no complaints. However, his salary as Vice President and General Manager was nothing like what it would have been if he had shared ownership of the company. Upon his death, Pete et al had turned the initial $147.00 investment into a $140 million dollar estate.

I heard that after 1976 and the sale of the company, the sales plummeted. I have no way of knowing if this is true or not. What I do know is that Pete, Mac, and Dad ran Silly Putty like a family business. I mean this in the sense of a company where the family loves the product and therefore really takes care of the product. There was a predictability about the product. I think that is where dad's influence came into play. I am reminded of the cliche' that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Silly Putty was always the same color. It was always in a bi-color egg (other than the silver egg).

I remember when Silly Putty later appeared in different colors and I was slightly horrified. Then there was a glitter version. Recently I noticed it was no longer in a bi-color egg.

In an article entitled SILLY PUTTY CELEBRATES ITS 40TH IN A BLAZE OF COLOR by James Barron (New York Times, February 15, 1990) the author states that "After 40 years of nothing but your basic bloblike pinkish beige, Silly Putty is diversifying . It introduced four new colors .. at the .. Toy Fair". It continues "Binney & Smith ... is boasting that it has been around longer than other toy classics like the Barbie doll, the Hula Hoop, or Slinky" and that "So far, 3,000 tons of Silly Putty have been sold - enough to fill 200 million plastic eggshells or circle the earth at the equator three times. Without stretching".

I have not bought Silly Putty for my grandson. I'm sure that at some point I will. In an article entitled Silly Putty Doesn't Work Anymore by Owen Holmes (Folio Weekly, August 1, 2006) he states that "the comics trick is a thing of the past because of changes in ink formulas and a
switch to "cold" printing processes" and "the ink transfer no longer works with newspapers Sunday comic pages". Holmes says "" ... "makes it clear that it's the newspapers that have changed, not the putty". Holmes quotes a toy store owner who was lamenting that "one of Silly Putty's most popular functions is becoming a thing of the past".

In 2001, Silly Putty was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
The Smithsonian Institute had an exhibit of Silly Putty (Material World Exhibit). 2005.

* See Mr. Murray Berdick's letter to the editor of the New York Times - 1/19/1992 (which followed the article "Silly Putty, Now a Classic" - 12/29/1991)