A Fun Mistake! Silly Putty

A Fun Mistake! Silly Putty
Betty Ford: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


Did you ever make a mistake that turned out really well?  That happened to James Wright in 1943, the year that Gerald Ford asked Betty Bloomer to marry him!   Mr. Wright was trying to find a substitute for rubber, which was desperately needed during the Second World War.  Instead, he got this stuff that…bounced!  But all turned out well; Silly Putty now makes a fortune for Binney & Smith, the makers of Crayola Crayons!


The purpose of this lesson is to acquaint students with the idea that sometimes mistakes can be turned into something useful and fun.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; 3x5 cards; several Silly Putty eggs.


1.  Begin the lesson by asking students if they’ve ever played with Silly Putty.  Ask them to discuss how they played with it, and why it was fun.
2.  Then, divide the class into five groups, and, using the websites listed below, assign each group one of the following research topics:

  • Who made the mistake that resulted in Silly Putty?  When? Where? How?
  • What is Silly Putty composed of?
  • What can Silly Putty do? What are its characteristics?
  • How, exactly, did the “mistake” come to be a hugely popular toy?
  • How much Silly Putty is made each day?  What colors does it come in? How does color-changing Silly Putty work?

3.  When the research is completed, ask each group to report its findings.

4.  To conclude the lesson, have a contest in which each student thinks of the “silliest way to use Silly Putty.”  Have each student write one or two uses on a 3x5 card and turn it in.  Write the uses on a large sheet of paper; then compare them to the “50 Silliest Uses for Silly Putty” on that website, below.  If a student comes up with a use that isn’t on the website, he or she could win a Silly Putty egg!

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by studying other scientific “mistakes,” such as that the sun revolves around the earth, or look at a list of inventions gone wrong (see below).

Sources & Resources:

Silly Putty Timeline 

Silly Science 

The History of Silly Putty 

The Top 50 Silliest Uses for Silly Putty 
Inventions Gone Wrong 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.