Friday, December 31, 2010


Silly Putty was always simply a fact of my life*. The New Yorker magazine says that Pete started with fifteen workers. Mom remembers that it was mostly just dad and Pete working at the back of the toy store during Christmas rush while she helped to wrap gifts*. And Mac said (when I interviewed him some years ago) that they always had anywhere from one to thirty employees. So, apparently, the company was started on a rather small scale.

For as long as I can remember my father was the manager of production for the company. In the 50's he was the General Manager. This fact was corroborated by Mac who says that my father "was responsible for every 5/8 ounce of Silly Putty that was ever put out" until his death and then the sale of the company shortly thereafter. Mac adds that dad was the central link in obtaining the putty and producing the product and that he did all of the production and was responsible for hiring and estimating crew. In a telephone interview with Willie Ruff on January 3, 2011, he indicated that my dad "started in a very menial position and rose to the position of Vice President" of what became known as Silly Putty Marketing, Inc. For most of my younger years he was always the General Manager. Mom says that Dad was the person who came up with the ideas about production. She says that he went "all over the world" looking for better and faster machines. It appears that Pete must have handled the side of the business which dealt with marketing and advertising (in fact, Willie Ruff describes him as the "idea man"). Mac was probably the Vice President in charge of Sales and since Dad was a V.P. he must have been the Vice President in charge of Production.

I had always thought there were two possible versions to the story of my father's position in the company. One version was that Dad started off high up in the chain, a collaborator on par with Pete. This version made me wonder how a 24 year old, black man (remember it was the 195o's) was privy to such a wonderful opportunity. The second version was that he worked his way up. I now know that it was the second version - he worked his way up**. This makes sense in light of the role of our family members at the Block Shop. The second version makes sense also if the early participants in the company were Pete, Dad, and Yale students. While the Yale students would work part time and then go off to finish their studies and start their careers, dad may have been the only full-time employee for whom the job would have been a constant.

Ruth Fallgatter was very close to my family. Many were her employees. My aunt Alice worked for her at the Block Shop for 17 years (until the day the store closed because of competition from big box stores). It seems logical that Pete would want to also work with our family members. It was a great match - an idea man and a young, loyal, stable and industrious man who wasn't afraid of hard work.

* Willie Ruff indicated that Pete had an aristocratic bearing and he was not going to be cutting putty and placing it in eggs. So my mom might be mistaken when she said "it was mostly just dad and Pete". Willie said there were notices at one time around Yale looking for students (right after the Toy Fair). My mother, at any rate, was a housewife and wouldn't have been in the position to know what happened at my father's workplace on a day to day basis. This may have just been her observation when she helped out at the toy store during that particular Christmas season.
** To say he "worked his way up", though, is somewhat deceiving because there would have been no one between him and Peter. Mac and dad were travelling up the ladder on parallel paths - with very different roles. Mac, however, was already a lawyer. Mac never "supervised" Dad though. They did entirely different things. (Though Mac recounted a story about how they would go to the toy fairs together).
* This is a picture of me when we were probably about ready to move from New Bedford to New Haven. See the pile of toys on the right side of the crib! It is apparent that my family worked in a toy shop!