Tuesday, December 30, 2008

James Wright and Peter Hodgson

Today we celebrate James Wright for his invention - Silly Putty - , and Peter Hodgson for discovering a way to use Wright's invention - as a toy.

James Wright, a GE engineer, developed Silly Putty while attempting to construct an alternative to rubber that might prove more practical in its uses than that of the synthetic material of the day. After sharing his discovery with scientists around the world, many would agree that Wright's putty exhibited interesting characteristics - e.g. its ability to stretch and rebound greater than rubber, and its interesting ability to copy the print of any newspaper that it touched - but, found it would hardly be practical to replace rubber.

Peter Hodgson, however, found marketing potential in Wright's putty. He purchased the rights from GE and began selling Silly Putty as a toy. The familiar plastic egg that Silly Putty comes packaged in today is the result of Hodgson's first attempt - and successful attempt - at marketing the product around the Easter holiday. Silly Putty became and instant hit and soon a multi-million dollar seller.

Many other uses for Silly Putty have been discovered since it was first sold to the public in 1949. This excerpt from the MIT "inventor of the week" article summarizes:

"Ironically, it was only after its success as a toy that practical uses were found for Silly Putty®. It picks up dirt, lint and pet hair, and can stabilize wobbly furniture; but it has also been used in stress-reduction and physical therapy, and in medical and scientific simulations. The crew of Apollo 8 even used it to secure tools in zero-gravity."

The unintended use of James Wright's invention - deemed a failure in its initial purpose - brought a world of wealth to Peter Hodgson and the consumers of his fantastic product.


MIT-Inventor of the Week

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