September 16 – Play-Doh Day

Posted on September 16, 2016

Did you know that Play-Doh was first sold as a substance that can help clean wallpaper? Of course, it wasn't sold with the name Play-Doh – and it wasn't sold in a variety of colors, either! Instead, the compound was a boring off white.

That was back in the 1930s, before there was vinyl wallpaper, and before people were heating their homes with clean natural gas. (Heating a home with coal left a layer of soot on wallpaper, and you couldn't get wallpaper wet, so it was pretty difficult to clean it.)

In the 1950s, though, wallpaper cleaner wasn't such a necessary product. Gas-burning furnaces provided cleaner heat, and the new vinyl wallpaper could be cleaned with simple soap and water. 

What would happen to Kutol, the wallpaper cleaner company?

Enter someone brilliant: a woman named Kay Zufall. She ran a nursery school, and she'd read that wallpaper cleaner could be used as a kind of modeling clay. She bought a bunch of Kutol wallpaper cleaner, because Kutol was run by her brother-in-law. The stuff worked SO well that she called up her brother-in-law and told him he should sell his outdated product in a whole new way.

Her brother-in-law was a man named Joe McVicker. He knew a great idea when he heard one, and he experimented with added coloring and fragrance to his compound to make it perfect for a sort of modeling clay. Then he sat down to think up a name. This is what he came up with:

Kutol's Rainbow Modeling Compound.

Zufall said something like, “Yeah—no! Bad name! That name sucks!” Only not those words; she used 1950s words to mean the same thing. But Kay Zufall put her own thinking cap on and came up with the name Play-Doh.

I don't know if she ever earned any money for her great idea and/or name!

Play-Doh was originally sold in red, blue, yellow, and white. Of course, kids could mix these colors to create orange, green, and purple – and, all too commonly, a sort of muddy brown. Nowadays, Play-Doh is marketed in 14 colors ranging from a nice, chocolaty brown to Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Green Garden, and Blue Lagoon.

According to the official Play-Doh website, if you made a giant ball of all the Play-Doh ever created, it would weigh almost a hundred million pounds! More than 2 billion cans have been sold in the 60 years since the compound was first sold, and 7 million Fun Factory playsets have been sold since 1999.

What's Play-Doh made of? Of course, the specific list of ingredients is a trade secret, but it's mostly flour, salt, and water, with some coloring and fragrance added. There is also a petroleum additive, to give the compound a smooth feel, and there is boron to prevent the mixture from getting moldy.

We are reminded that Play-Doh is not meant to be eaten!! It is, however, non-toxic and non-allergenic except possibly to people with a wheat allergy.

Did you know...?

Back in the Stone Ages of TV, a huge children's star was Captain Kangaroo. He was shown Play-Doh and asked to feature the product once a week, but Captain Kangaroo loved the stuff and started using it three times a week! Sales took off, and other old-time kids' shows started featuring Play-Doh as well.

There are so many Play-Doh sets – Dr. Drill 'n' Fill, Burger Builder, Spaghetti Factory, Ice Cream Shoppe, Pizza Party, and many, many, many more!

There is a mascot called Play-Doh Pete. He used to be an elf. Then he became a cute kid in an artist's beret. Finally, he traded in his beret for a baseball cap – at least, that's what I read; I haven't spotted a picture of Pete with a baseball cap!

Artist Lacy Knudson makes mosaics out of thousands of Play-Doh dots! 

Here is a Play-Doh “painting” by Akira Sato:

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