If you were born in the early-late 50’s you likely remember spending hours creating fantastic creatures, or cute replicas of your pet or zoo animals, castles, houses, fake cupcakes or banana splits, Flintstone-like cars and who knows what else with your Play-Doh Fun Factory. It allowed you to let your imagination and creativity run wild.
And, if you ran out of your packaged Play-Doh, you could just make your own in your kitchen with a simple combination of flour, salt, water, a little food coloring, and you’d be back in business. Like some kids, you may have even taken a bite of your Play-Doh food creations they looked so good but that was okay too. Because of its natural ingredients, Play-Doh was deemed edible. It tasted and smelled a lot like salty, uncooked cookie dough and you could even add flavors to it – a popular one was peanut butter. But if you ate too much you might wind up with a stomachache.
Even though you may have played with Play-Doh frequently as a kid, you might not know the interesting back-story of how it became a national sensation. Play-Doh was the brainchild creation of a guy named Joe McVicker who started his fledgling company on a shoestring with little-to-no money to advertise his product. It wasn’t originally intended to be a kid’s toy, though. Rather, it started out as wallpaper cleaner! That’s right. You rolled the blob of white dough across the wallpaper surface and all the dirt and grime stuck to it restoring a clean surface.
It wasn’t long after though that Mr. McVicker thought of another use for his product, a modeling compound that kids could create a bunch of fun objects with. He also started to experiment with adding food color to the original mixture and came up with the traditional red, blue and yellow colors that we know Play-Doh for as well as some exotic ones like purple paradise, garden green and blue lagoon. About 1955-56, McVicker started to market the product to stores but it didn’t really take off until he showed the product to a guy named Bob Keeshan.
Bob Keeshan, more popularly known to 50’s-60’s kids as Captain Kangaroo, liked what he saw in Play-Doh as a kid’s toy. He agreed to feature the novel compound 3 times a week on his popular TV show and his kid-based audience went crazy for it. Play-Doh soon went on to be featured on other popular kids show of the era, DingDong School and Romper Room. After that, the rest, as they say, is history. Play-Doh began to be sold in just about every store that carried kids’ toys and was a national success.
Play-Doh is still just as popular a kid’s toy today and has sold over 2 million tins of Play-Doh since. It commemorated it’s 50th anniversary a few years back in 2006 but Play-Doh Pete is still featured on the can, though he’s changed over the years from an elf to a young boy wearing a baseball cap. Today, there are several theme-based sets like Breakfast Time that includes a Play-Doh waffle iron that allows kids to make their own Play-Doh waffles; there’s Ice Cream Shoppe where kids can re-create a Play-Doh version of their favorite desserts; and the Movie Snacks set that re-creates movie-type candy and popcorn. But that’s not all…today, there’s even a National Play-Doh Day started by Hallmark Cards a few years back, which occurs every September 16. Happy Belated 50th Birthday, Play-Doh!