Happy National Play-Doh Day!

Did you know today is National Play-Doh Day? While most of us without kids might not have any of the clay on hand to celebrate, we certainly can remember the great times we had with it as youngsters and honor the wonderful product by taking a look at its fascinating history.

Image Via Dennis Brekke [Flickr]

Thank Kroger’s Dirty Wallpaper

Image Via rails4me [Flickr]

Kutol Products started as a soap manufacturer in 1912. By 1927, the company was already facing forclosure, so Cleo McVicker hired his brother, Noah W. McVicker, to help manage the plant. The moved helped a lot as it allowed Cleo to serve as the company’s salesman –which is what he was good at, and Noah was great at developing new products.

In 1933, Cleo convinced Kroger to let Kutol manufacture a special wallpaper cleaner just for their company to use in their grocery stores on the condition that if he failed to provide them with fifteen thousand cases of cleaner on time –then Kutol would have to pay them $5000 in fines. It was a risky move –not only had the company never made a wallpaper cleaner before, but if the they failed to deliver on time, the fines would bankrupt them. Fortunately, Noah was one heck of an inventor and was able to create a non-toxic cleaner mostly made from flour, water, and boric acid and the company was able to ship it out on time.

One Brilliant Family

Unfortunately, as easily-cleaned vinyl wallpaper started to catch on and dirty coal power was phased out, the Kutol wallpaper cleaner became obsolete and the company once again started to face financial ruin. To make matters worse, Cleo died in a plane crash in 1949. In a last ditch attempt to save the company, his widow hired her son, Joseph –and soon enough, he did. In fact, while Kutol no longer sells their famous wallpaper cleaner, the soap company is still in business today.

While most people credit Joseph for saving the company, much of the credit belongs to his sister, a school teacher who, in 1955, asked him if the company could maybe come up with a safe substitute for modeling clay, which is too hard for many youngsters to manipulate. Joseph immediately thought of the company’s non-toxic wallpaper cleaner and sent her a sample. When she told him that her kids loved it, he reached out to all the schools in Cincinnati and offered them a free supply of the clay substitute. When kids all over the town were raving about the product, he presented the new toy, which he and Noah dubbed “Play-Doh,” at a national education convention where it sparked the interest of a number of major department store chains who all started carrying the product.

Play-Doh is Born

Image Via Michael Pollak [Flickr]

Only a year after the wallpaper cleaner became a hit with kids, the McVickers pulled Play-Doh from the Kutol line of products and started the Rainbow Crafts Company to make and sell the new toy. When they first started selling the product, it only came in an off-white color and was sold in one and a half pound blocks. Rainbow Crafts quickly improved their new product by offering it in seven-ounce cans that came in three packs featuring the primary colors. They soon started advertising on popular kid’s shows like Captain Kangaroo, Ding Dong School and Romper Room.

By 1958, they had already sold almost $3 million worth of Play-Doh. At that point, Noah and Joseph finally decided they should apply for a patent. Funny enough though, the Patent Office did not officially patent their product for almost ten years –given how simple the formula was, it’s amazing that no other major company managed to create a major competitor in that time. The same year their patent was granted, the company was bought up by General Mills for $3 million, which seems like a pretty low price considering the fact that there are now more than 95 million cans sold every year. These days, the product is owned by Hasbro.

Embellishments Are Key

Image Via Larry D. Moore [Wikipedia]

While you can make generic Play-Doh at home, the real secret to the company’s success these days is the number of toys you can get to accompany the clay and the amazing vivid colors it comes in. Rainbow Crafts developed the first playset all the way back in 1960, when they released the Fun Factory. That’s also the year where they first used their now famous icon, Play-Doh Pete. Before Pete, the company first experimented with real kid’s faces and then an elf, but Pete’s the one that has stood the test of time. In fact, the only change made to Pete since 1960 was the replacement of his beret for a baseball hat in 2002. In 1977, the Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop was released, allowing kids to grow, cut and style Play-Doh hair that is extruded out of a doll’s scalp.

Adding new colors to the mix took a bit longer. In fact, it took almost twenty five years for the company to expand its color palate, but they finally did in 1983. After that, new colors were introduced fairly regularly. In celebration of the product’s 40th anniversary in 1996, they released the clay in gold and silver –they also released the cleanest Play-Doh product yet, a computer game for kids. For the 50th Play-Doh anniversary, Hasbro not only had a 40 pound cake created from the clay, but also released a special pack that came with fifty colors and a new Play-Doh toy, the Play-Doh Creativity Center. Also in honor of the big celebration, Demeter Fragrance Library created a limited-edition perfume inspired by Play-Doh’s famous fragrance.

Wonder what America’s favorite Play-Doh colors are? Well, in 2000, a nationwide poll revealed that we seem to love Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Blue Lagoon and Garden Green above all others. As for what’s in the “Doh,” well, that’s a company secret, but it definitely contains water, salt, flour, boric acid, petroleum, surfactant, preservative, hardener, humectant, fragrance, and color.

Image Via Cayusa [Flickr]

My personal favorite Play-Doh colors are Purple Paradise and Tropical Pink, but I’ll admit that all of my cans from childhood eventually became a hideous shade of greenish-brown (thanks to creations like the one above), so it didn’t really matter all that much. What about you guys? I’m sure we’ve all played with it at some point, so what’s your favorite color and were you actually able to keep them separate as a kid?

Sources: Hasbro, Ohio History Central #1 and #2, Idea Finder, Failed Success and Wikipedia

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