Silly putty is one of the all time favorite toys of the baby-boomer generation (and every generation after them!). Silly putty can be formed into any shape just like regular craft clay, with the added plus that it bounces. In addition, when it is pressed against any of the words or pictures in newspapers printed on standard news pulp, the image is copied onto the silly putty. Kids enjoy lifting an image of their favorite comic strip character and distorting it by stretching and squeezing the silly putty.
Silly Putty (or Dow Corning patent 3179) was invented in 1943. It was originally intended for industrial use as a synthetic rubber, but was not usable because it was not as firm as rubber. Silly Putty was scrapped as a potential product until 1949, when an unemployed advertising executive thought it might be a good idea to market it as a toy. He packaged a run of the substance in plastic eggs, and the familiar plastic egg filled with the mysterious goo has been an American toy icon ever since, with sales in the multi-millions of dollars.
Silly putty is a polymer, or to be more proper, an elastomer. A polymer is a substance with long string-like flexible molecules. An elastomer has these same long molecules, but they are connected in several locations on the side to produce a sponge-like texture. Because of the molecules’ natural flexibility, they can be stretched, and absorb mechanical energy in a similar way to rubber.
Actual silly putty would be difficult to produce in a home setting due to the chemicals needed for its production, but a similar substance that has all the same qualities can be easily made with some basic ingredients found in your home.
What you need:
A bottle of white glue
Food coloring of your choice
A measuring cup
Empty Soda Bottle
A plastic zip lock bag
First, mix one tablespoon of Borax powder and one cup of water in the empty soda bottle. Replace the cap and shake the mixture until the Borax has dissolved completely. Now place one tablespoon of glue in the plastic bag along with one teaspoon of plain water. At this point you can add a drop of food coloring to make your creation more colorful. Next, add just one tablespoon of the Borax mixture to the bag and seal it. Now massage the mixture for a few minutes until it begins to set up. It will gradually take on a putty-like texture as the polymer chains grow and interconnect. When you are able to remove the putty from the bag in one piece, do so and begin rolling it between your fingers. The more you roll it the more similar it will be to silly putty.
Finally, as a word of caution, Borax is not for human consumption – so this putty should be made and played with under competent adult supervision. Have fun!