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Everyday Objects

Silly String

Silly String is an aerosol toy popular with pranksters, if you’re into that kind of thing. Surely you know how it works? You press the nozzle at the top of the can and colourful plastic string fires out really fast and sticks to anything, which is obviously pretty annoying. If you’re less into silly games and more into real world problems, you’ll probably like the history of Silly String more than its legacy.

Completely ignoring all potential hilarious comments and innuendos, I can tell you that, in 1972, inventor Leonard A. Fish and chemist Robert P. Cox created Silly String as a “foamable resinous composition,” and even though they created the composition, they completely overlooked that foamable is not a word. Cox and Fish wanted to be the guys to revolutionise the broken bone business, thinking this ridiculous string would be the perfect alternative to plaster casts. Like a lot of medical inventions I hear about (looking at you, penicillin) the inventors had an accident along the way which changed its trajectory. During testing, Fish and his slippery hands accidentally shot the string 30 feet (over 9 meters for those of us who use proper measurements) across what must have been a fairly large room. Plans of being medical moguls were pushed aside and the silliness of the string was embraced instead.

Fish and Cox met with Wham-O, an extremely professional sounding Californian Toy company known for marketing ground-breaking inventions such as the Hula Hoop, Frisbee and, perhaps the most well known completely irrelevant and pointless item of all time: the Hacky Sack. In the meeting with Wham-O, the pair obviously had fingers just as slippery as they had in their nozzle-testing phase, and accidentally covered the Wham-O office and a disgruntled employee with their sticky, unserious string and not surprisingly, were asked to leave.

As proof of how professional Wham-O are, the owners saw some of the leftover Silly String hanging from a lamp shade and instead of seeing it as a nuisance or calling in the cleaning squad, they sent Fish a telegram (yes, a telegram was the method of communication at the same time that Silly String was invented, which is an overlapping that I wouldn’t have expected) requesting 24 cans of Silly String to test and issuing a contract within two weeks. From big dreams of fixing fractures, to a globally known pointless annoyance, Silly String seems to be sticking around.

Words by Quinn Clark
Research by Stephanie Crowe
Illustration by Noni Farragher-Hanks