Steve Woods

Play-Doh : A History

In What Day is it? on September 18, 2009 at 9:25 am
Old-Style 1 1/2 lb Play-Doh Canister

Old-Style 1 1/2 lb Play-Doh Canister

In the toy department of Woodward & Lothrop’s Department Store in Washington, D.C., a new non-toxic, reusable modeling compound was demonstrated to interested children and their parents. The year was 1956.

The unusual concoction was originally designed and marketed as a wallpaper cleaning putty by Noah McVicker of Kutol Products of Cincinnati, a soap and cleaning products manufacturer.  After World War II, Noah’s nephew Joseph joined the company, and noted that children were playing with the putty, shaping animals and people, easily reusing the product until it dried, whereupon the children simply scooped more out of the can. Parents seemed happy with this use, as the product appeared to be non-toxic to their kids, and easy to clean up after.  After mulling it over, Noah McVicker  decided to change the company’s name to Rainbow Crafts, and along with his uncle, Bill Rhodenbaugh, immediately began remarketing the product as a children’s modeling clay.

In 1955, Joe brought his  product, then marketed in 1 ½ lb. cans, to a convention for educators, where Woodward & Lothrop came across it. At the time Play-Doh only came in the color white, but the teachers who came across it not only did not mind this shortfalling; they fell in love with the product and its educational qualities, squishing and shaping it over and over.

Two years later, Play-Doh appeared on shelves in yellow, red and blue, with the infinite ability to mix and match colors. Play-Doh began to be advertised on shows such as Captain Kangaroo, adding to its instant appeal. Macy’s and Marshall Field’s purchased and sold the product as well. Play-doh was an instant hit, and Joe McVicker became an almost instant millionaire.

The Play-Doh Fun Factory

The Play-Doh Fun Factory

In 1960, accoutrements such as extruders and shapers were introduced with the “Fun Factory” set, beginning the time-honored search every child has had in finding something to work, squish, cut, and poke Play-Doh with. Smaller mini-cans began to be introduced, beginning the time-honored let-down we’ve all had when we discover how little of the product we find after opening the package…

In 1991, Play-Doh became part of the Hasbro line of PlaySkool products, and five years later Hasbro released a new educational Play-Doh based CD-ROM game, taking the easy-to-use clay into the world of computer-based technology.


Elf adorning the Play-Doh can (circa 1950s)

The brand logo for Play-Doh first featured the faces of children, followed by an elf in the late 1950s, and eventually the well-known Play-Doh Pete, whose familiar smock and beret was replaced by a baseball cap in 2002.

Over 700,000,000 pounds (2 Billion cans) of Play-Doh have been sold, and 95 million little cans reach the hands of children each and every year since 1995.

How do you make your own Play-Doh? Hasbro has long admitted its product is largely made from water, salt, and wheat flour. The U.S. Patent lists a number of other types of lubricants, degradation inhibitors, and preservatives. You can make a rudimentary Play-Doh at home by following the instructions at

If you want to take the familiar scent of Play-Doh each and every day with you to the office (and on dates,) simply buy a 1-oz bottle of Demeter’s Play-Doh Cologne Spray!

Play-Doh was named in 2003 by the Toy Industry Association as one of the top 100 most memorable and creative toys of the 20th Century.


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