Pratley Putty sure to stick around

SUPER STICKY: Pratley Putty was the first " and is so far only " South African invention to really reach for the stars, making it all the way to the Moon.

SUPER STICKY: Pratley Putty was the first " and is so far only " South African invention to really reach for the stars, making it all the way to the Moon.

Published Mar 29, 2011


Which is the only South African invention to have travelled to the Moon? Nasa chose Pratley Putty as one of the adhesives that they used on the Ranger Moon Module Project in 1967.

Pratley Putty was also used to stop the cracking in one of the main supports of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay in California.

The putty, which sets under water, was also used to repair holes in two sunken ships off the South African coast. Both ships were raised and ultimately sailed the high seas again.

The inventor of Pratley Putty, George Montague (“Monty”) Pratley, was born in Johannesburg in 1917 and educated at King Edward School and Wits University in Johannesburg. He used a small inheritance to study at Rugby College of Technology & Arts in England, and worked in England during the 1930s.

During the early years of World War 2 he was part of the team that developed the Whittle jet engine, which was later to power the first British jet aircraft in the war.

Monty was a man with tremendous faith in his ability to succeed. When he returned to South Africa in 1948, he started the Pratley Manufacturing and Engineering Company in a rented garage in Roodepoort. With the help of his first employee, Sam Matlebe, he carried out repairs on mine pumps and made fittings and valves for the mining industry.

He invented Pratley Putty in the early 1960s while trying to develop a glue and insulator that would hold components together in an electrical box. Over time many other uses were found for the moldable epoxy putty, which is chemical dough that turns hard after setting. It was the first putty of its type in the world and was regarded as a “space age” product at the time.

When George Pratley died in 1983, he was succeeded by his son, Kim, who also believed that innovation is the best method of growing an enterprise. He also realised that innovation means not only thinking up new ideas but also being resourceful enough to put them into practice and take them to the market place. Ideas need wings as well as landing gear!

Pratley Putty now employs more than 250 people and manufactures more than 800 products, including putties, adhesives, epoxies, sealants, electrical cable glands, junction boxes, and mineral products derived from perlite. The Pratley group has maintained a leading market position on the home front as well as in numerous markets abroad.

It serves mainly the industrial and mining sectors, though many home hobbyists also use its products. The company is highly regarded internationally for its innovation and quality, and has filed over 300 patents worldwide.

One the most famous marketing events in South Africa took place at the launch of Pratley Wondafix, a unique adhesive that displays both superior adhesive strength and remarkable flexibility.

Kim Pratley put his life on the line when a 13-ton bulldozer was hoisted and held aloft by a crane attached to two plates stuck together with a hairline layer of Pratley Wondafix! Kim stood underneath the bulldozer calmly chatting to apprehensive spectators. The Pratley byline became “I stake my life on them!”

In 1993, the world’s fastest setting adhesive, Pratley Wham, was launched at a spectacular event during which a Volkswagen Beetle was lifted by a crane only 3.5 seconds after the lifting plate had been attached using the new superglue.

This product was eventually taken off the market as it worked too fast for most people to handle!

Other remarkable Pratley products include the Envirogland range of corrosion-protected encapsulated glands, Pratlock anaerobic adhesives, Eezebond two-part acrylic adhesive, Klik-Lok junction boxes, and the Kraftex range of home craft products. Another amazing story of South African innovation!

l Professor Mike Bruton is director of Imagineering at MTE Studios, Cape Town, ( and the Science Centre’s founding director. - Cape Argus

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