What originally started
out as a modeling compound was first marketed as a wallpaper
cleaner. When it failed as a wallpaper cleaner, they adapted,
tweaked and reintroduced it a year later as a toy for kids. It was
first sold to schools, kindergartens and nursery schools in 1955.
A year later, they first offered it to the general public at a
department store in Washington, D.C. It came in only one color and
one size, off-white in a 1 1/2 pound can. Since that day 50 years
ago, more than 2 billion cans of the stuff have been sold.
It was 1956 when the McVickers introduced their new product,
which had a texture similar to bread dough. It was the same year
that the Department of Agriculture introduced the four basic food
groups, and the minimum wage was just $1 an hour. Other new
inventions that year included Certs, Yahtzee and the first ant farm
ever sold (with live ants). The "Wizard of Oz" made its TV debut, as
did Elvis Presley.
Nine years later, General Mills bought the McVickers' Rainbow
Crafts Company. Then, in 1971, Kenner merged with Rainbow Crafts.
Tonka Toys would later buy out the merged company. Finally, in 1991,
Hasbro bought Tonka and its popular product, the same one that
started out as a wallpaper cleaner, and made it part of the
Are you following all this? We're almost there. So what was it
that the McVickers invented?
Joseph's sister-in-law, a nursery school teacher, didn't like the
type of modeling clay that she was using with her young students, so
Joseph sent her some of the stuff that they had been marketing as
wallpaper cleaner. She loved it!
[to top of second column]
When many of the Cincinnati schools started ordering it, Joseph
took it to an education trade show, and this is where the department
store mentioned earlier placed its first order. Joe McVicker, who
was working for his dad at the time, became a millionaire before his
27th birthday. The rest is history.
It was granted a patent in 1965, but the formula for Play-Doh has
remained top secret. It is protected by a trade secret, which is the
same type of protection that keeps the formula for Coca-Cola and the
recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken confidential.
Play-Doh even has its own day named after it. Sept. 18 is known
as National Play-Doh Day.
What started out as an accidental invention became one of the
most popular children's products of all time. It could also be known
as the fad that would not quit, because most fads last only a few
months. This one has lasted more than five decades, and counting.
There has been enough Play-Doh made to wrap around the world nearly
Play-Doh. Or, as Homer Simpson would say, Play-D'ohhhh!
Paul Niemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn
more about Invention Mysteries by visiting
Copyright Paul Niemann 2006