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home : blogs_old : ability and accountability February 05, 2016

Ability and Accountability
By Richard Haddad, Prescott Valley, AZ
"[Children] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are."
"Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it."

-- Two of my favorite quotes by Jim Henson

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Overcoming failure and the little-known origin of Silly Putty

 By Richard Haddad

Image from a 1951 edition of GE Adventures Ahead magazine.

(My last column included a list of the Top 100 toys from the past. On the list was Silly Putty, a childhood favorite. The column below was inspired by my wife, Debbie. It contains information and a photo used with permission of the General Electric Company.)

It was 1943 and World War II was raging. The U.S. industry was at the peak of a massive mobilization effort to support military troops overseas. There was an acute shortage of natural rubber, a compound vital to the success of the war.

Scientist James Wright and his team were working around the clock in a GE research lab trying to develop new silicone "hard rubbers." After a year of research and development Wright made a mistake. During one experiment he and his team misidentified a substance while mixing a combination of chemical compounds. The resulting substance was deemed a failure. Rather than a sturdy hard rubber, the substance was gooey and seemingly useless.

Frustrated, Wright threw the goop onto the floor and to his surprise, it bounced right back up at him. This was the birth of what would become Silly Putty, a pliable, bouncy clay-like material that would go on to become one of the most popular toys of all time.

We can learn a lot from Silly Putty

We all make mistakes. We will all face failure. But I believe one of the often-overlooked principles of success is the ability to recognize the value of our failures. Whether it's a test at school, a job interview or a relationship, self-forgiveness and a willingness to learn and move on are essential elements of success. Sometimes we beat ourselves up far too much and allow failure to wrap around our necks like a snake.

Like a ball of Silly Putty, we should allow our past experiences to mold us into the kind of person who can accept moments of failure and bounce right back. We must believe that all things can be for our good.

I remember as a young man reading about Joseph of the Old Testament with his coat of many colors, and about how his jealous brothers sold him into Egypt as a slave. Referring to Joseph, I found this quote from Hartman Rector Jr. who coincidentally was serving in the Navy during this same period of 1943. Rector spent 26 years as a Navy pilot and was intimately acquainted with success and failure. He said:

"The ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic... Joseph, although a slave and wholly undeserving of this fate, nevertheless remained faithful to the Lord and continued to live the commandments and made something very good of his degrading circumstances. People like this cannot be defeated."

Wright and his team ultimately developed a super-durable silicone compound that was used to make gaskets on GE's airplane turbosuperchargers and Navy searchlights.

For a more complete history, click here to read the GE Reports site article: "The Amazing Origin of Silly Putty."

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011
Article comment by: Richard Haddad

Just a fun follow-up to this column -- on howstuffworks.com I just found an article that highlights "9 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident."
Silly Putty is on the list along with: Corn Flakes, microwave ovens, Post-it Notes, Saccharin, the Slinky, potato chips, fireworks and Play-Doh.
The article also mentions that Silly Putty was even used by the crew of Apollo 8 to secure tools in zero gravity. See the article on howstuffworks.com.

Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011
Article comment by: Prescott JJ

According to boingboing.net pantyhose were actually invented by textile mogul names Allen Gant Sr. in 1953 at the insistence of his wife. It was really her idea. See the story "History of Pantyhose" at http://boingboing.net/2009/07/10/history-of-pantyhose.html.
I think I like Silly Putty better.

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Article comment by: Jamie D

Wow, how cool is that? Isn't it true as well that pantyhose (nylons) were an accident too?

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