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The 50 Year History of Play-Doh

Posted by Davbmn on 05/02/06 at 09:08 PM

image2006 marks 50 years of messy and colorful fun

In 1956 a new type of “modeling clay” for children was invented and began popping up in schools and stores everywhere. In 1965, U.S. Patent No. 3,167,440 was granted to Noah McVicker and Joseph McVicker for a “plastic modeling composition”, (which was originally intended to be a wallpaper cleaner) now called Play-Doh. Little did they know that they had created the substance of childhood memories as well as many a childhood meal, unfortunately.

Play-Doh persists as one of the most well known and popular childrens “toys” with over 2 billion cans sold since its invention in 1956. As you attempt to clean your children’s Play-Doh out of the carpet, the car, and the bathtub; take a look back with us at how it all got started.

Originally, Play-Doh came in only one color; off-white and came in a 1.5.lb cardboard can.  Joe McVicker of Kutol Chemicals had learned from a teacher that modeling clay used by children in the classrooms was often too difficult for many of the smaller children to manipulate. He remembered that his non-toxic composition he had created as a wallpaper cleaner was easy to manipulate and could possibly work as a substitute for the typical modeling clay the schools were using.

Play-DohHe shipped a box of his cleaning composition to the school and it was a huge hit with both the teachers and the kids. He offered to supply all of the schools in the Cincinnati area with this new material, and after great reactions from those schools as well, his product was showcased at a national education convention.

Word spread like wildfire and department stores began to take a serious interest. Under the banner of his new company “Rainbow Crafts”, it was first sold in the toy department of Woodward & Lothrop Department Store in Washington, D.C.  It was the first of over 900 million pounds of the squishy, salty (non-toxic) cans of the recently dubbed “Play-Doh” to be sold over the next 50 years. Early cans featured a happy little elf on the label, doing his best to extoll the virtues of fun with Play-Doh. Soon after, this mascot gave way to the kid dressed as an artist affectionately known as Play-Doh-Pete.

Over the next several years, modifications were made to the formula to improve its ability to impress all of its little fans. A softer, more pliable version of Play-Doh was produced. It was also produced in a variety of primary colors to further its appeal with kids everywhere. The colors made the Play-Doh an even bigger success, as tiny Picassos all over began to mix and match the colorful goo into delightful shades of ugly brown and pukey purple. They also updated their mascot Play-Doh-Pete’s image

In 1986 another change was made as the cardboard can was abandoned for a more cost effective plastic container.  The cardboard cans were somewhat flimsy and had a metal bottom that was vulnerable to rust. Plastic seemed like the perfect choice to keep Play-Doh fresh and ready for fun. Play-Doh has also changed hands many times; most recently in 1991 when it was sold to Hasbro and added to their Playskool division.

So what is Play-Doh made of, you may ask? It goes without saying that the top secret formula is a closely guarded secret, so the exact ingredient proportions are not known to the average person. However, it is known to contain, among other things, wheat flour, water, salt, and some sort of petroleum distillate.

Play-Doh DistributionPlay-Doh has sparked imaginations for half a century now and shows no sign of becoming obsolete.  The once monochromatic modeling clay is now available in many vibrant colors sure to catch any youngsters eye.  In 2000, Hasbro let people vote on their favorite Play-Doh colors.  Over 100,000 people voted and the winners were rose red, purple paradise, blue lagoon, and garden green with many close runners-up to be sure. 

In 1996 Hasbro celebrated by offering an educational CD-Rom called Play-Doh Creations.  This year Hasbro will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Play-Doh by offering a 50 pack.  Hasbro now offers a whole host of gadgets and tools to help children of all ages make their favorite play-doh creation.

If you find yourself stressed out grab a ball of Play-Doh, there is nothing more relaxing than squishing it between your fingers.  Need a baby-sitter?  Set your child up with a table and some Play-Doh and they will entertain themselves for hours.  Play-Doh has been responsible for kids learning their colors and bringing out their creativity for an entire generation. Warren Brown of the Food Networks show “Sugar Rush” has even created a “birth-doh cake” in celebration of 50 years of Play-doh.  Happy birthday Play-Doh! Here’s to 50 more…

Further Reading:

-Read “Who Invented Play-Doh at About.com
-Visit Hasbro’s Official Play-Doh page

Discuss this Story

Previous Comments

  1. To Davbmn: “Patents are evil”?!  Well, the US patent system has some serious flaws, but can you imagine a world without patents?  Who would spend large sums of money to innovate, when they would be immediately copied?  No-one? Exactly!

    Posted by Roger  on  05/07/06  at  11:48 PM
  2. By percentage, it’s a small amount of kerosene.  Many water-based adhesives that are otherwise “safe” contain solvents too.  (I used to be in R&D;)

    Posted by Jerry  on  05/04/06  at  09:59 PM
  3. Forrest, industrial formulas measure liquids by weight quite frequently--large scales are more wieldy than metering pumps.

    The water that is added is probably determined more by process measurements than absolute amounts, given the variability of the other main ingredient.

    Posted by Malvern  on  05/04/06  at  07:31 PM
  4. i think play-doh has cocaine in it because i used to eat play-doh and wanted more and more i was hooked on the stuff

    Posted by timmy  on  05/04/06  at  06:37 PM
  5. So it’s non-toxic but contains kerosene???

    Posted by Klaus  on  05/04/06  at  06:18 PM
  6. “"Its like McDonalds many of its items on its menu that only they server, are patented, and not all ingredients are known, because those ingredients have been changed many time over the years"”

    It’s probably also very similar in ingredient to McDonalds.

    Posted by Geoff  on  05/04/06  at  05:54 PM
  7. I like the quote of the patent, where it specifies “pounds of water” yet correctly specifies “gallons of kerosene” (both liquids).

    Posted by Forrest  on  05/04/06  at  04:05 PM
  8. If it’s below the “doesn’t need to be declared” limit, that usually means the amounts present aren’t sufficient to cause problems.  Perhaps if a child ate a couple of cans of the stuff every day for years, they might develop issues.  But, normal everyday nips and tastes wouldn’t be harmful.

    Posted by Spoonman  on  05/04/06  at  03:51 PM
  9. Ingredients are put in the patent, but ratio’s are not.

    Ever tried making a cola at home that tastes just like Coke? Good luck figuring that one out ;)

    Posted by Patent Pete  on  05/04/06  at  03:10 PM
  10. Call me crazy but I don’t like the idea of kids handling and eating a product that does not list ingredients. A lot of “non-toxic” food and drink list harmful ingredients.
    Can play-doh contain ingredients that food or drink cannot? Does anyone check what’s in play-doh? Does anyone check the food and drink ingredients? I know when they are below a certain amount they do not need to be declared.

    Posted by James Kelly  on  05/04/06  at  01:57 PM
  11. Philip is correct, even though the original recipe is patented it has been “improved”, and under the patent and trademark laws, any “improvements” do not have to be made public, as they are considered as trade secrets.

    Its like McDonalds many of its items on its menu that only they server, are patented, and not all ingredients are known, because those ingredients have been changed many time over the years.

    Posted by Mike Martin  on  05/04/06  at  11:30 AM
  12. Of course, those are the ingredients for the version made in 1965. As this article notes, the recipe has been improved over time, and although it’s possible that those have also been patented, it’s probably more likely that they’re not and therefore considered trade secrets.

    Posted by Philip Trauring  on  05/04/06  at  10:27 AM
  13. You are right. Ingredients are stated in the patent:

    Posted by Marcin  on  05/04/06  at  09:01 AM
  14. If the stuff has been patented, then the ingredients are not a secret, they are published in the patent!

    Patents are evil, but this one thing (publishing trade secrets in exchange for a temporary monopoly) is what they were intended for.

    If the composition now is not known, then most likely it is unpatentable because it is obvious.

    Posted by Jelle  on  05/04/06  at  08:48 AM