The product was manufactured by
their new company, Rainbow Crafts.
It was originally a modeling compound and 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
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
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 were Certs, Yahtzee and the first ant farm ever
sold (with live ants). The "Wizard of Oz" made its TV debut, as did
Nine years later, General Mills bought the McVickers' Rainbow
Crafts Co. 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 its
Are you following all this? We're almost there. So what was it
that the McVickers invented?
[to top of second column]
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!
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, Noah, at the time, became a millionaire
before his 27th birthday. The rest is history.
Play-Doh was granted a patent in 1965, but the formula has
remained top secret. It is protected as 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 for more than five decades, and
counting. There has been enough Play-Doh made to wrap around the
world nearly 300 times.
Play-Doh. Or, as Homer Simpson would say, Play-D'ohhhh!
Paul Niemann's column is syndicated
to more than 70 newspapers. He is the author of the "Invention
Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008