Play-Doh: An innovation that came from error or accidents

The mixture of flour, water, salt, boric acid and mineral oil was first originally used as a reusable soup product to help clean wallpaper as part of the Kutol company (Biddle, 2012; Hiskey, 2015; Wonderopolis, n.d.). Hiskey (2015), chronicles that in 1933 coal was used to heat a home in a chimney, but came at the cost of causing sooty wallpapers, which established the need for the product, and there was the added dimension of the problem that wallpaper couldn’t get wet.  Noah McVicker and Cleo McVicker were able to create a component to clean wallpaper without getting it wet and partnered with Kroger groceries to be their distributor (Hiskey, 2015).  When coal fireplaces were being replaced with oil and gas and a new type of wallpaper that can be cleaned with water and soap was introduced, sales plummeted (Hiskey, 2015).  However, the lack of toxic chemicals made it an ideal not only as a cleaning product but to become the toy it is today eventually (Hiskey, 2015; Wonderopolis, n.d.).  The transition occurred when teachers began to use this wallpaper cleaner in an innovative way, for a molding compound to make art for craft projects in school (Hiskey, 2015; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.).  When, the inventor’s nephew, Joe McVicker, eventually came into the Kutol Company and noticed this secondary use of their product, and though it would be good to rename the product “Play-Doh” and market it to schools (Biddle, 2012; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.). In 1956, the nephew devoted his time to creating Play-Doh as part of a company called Rainbow Crafts Company and sold to both Macy’s and Marshall Fields, and in one year made $3 million just by selling Play-Doh in the primary colors (Hiskey, 2015; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.).  In the 1980s, the color pallet was expanded to 8 colors, with future versions glowing in the dark, containing glitter, and smell like shaving cream (The Strong, n.d.) The recipe has been perfected over time and has remained a trade secret; Play-Doh is now part of the Hasbro Company (Wonderopolis, n.d.). Under the wallpaper utility of this product, it sold for 34 cents per can, but under the toy utility of this product the company was able to sell it at $1.50 per can (Hiskey, 2015).  In 2003, Play-Doh was added to the “Century of Toys List,” as it has hit 100 years of existence (Wonderopolis, n.d.) 700 million pounds of Play-Doh have been sold and played with (The Strong, n.d.).In 2016, a Play-Doh Super Color pack with 20 different colors goes for $14.99, and a Play-Doh Rainbow Starter Pack with eight colors goes for $4.99 (Hasbro, n.d.). However, the amount of Play-Doh per mini color tub is small compared to homemade versions.  There are many ways to make your version of Play-Doh.  One version of this non-toxic homemade version of Play-Doh, as stated by Nicko’s Kids DIY (2012): (1) mix 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of water, 1 cup of salt, 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil, and 1 tbsp. Of cream of tartar over low heat in a pan until it becomes a dough; (2) while it is still warm, knead the dough and don’t add any more flour to it; (3) finally poke a hole to the center of the dough and drop in a few drops of food coloring and work in the color.

Forces that supported it

  • Commercial: Besides selling it in one-gallon tubs to schools, sales skyrocketed when it got a national platform to the kids show Captain Kangaroo, who was promised to get 2% of the sales as long as the product was featured (Hiskey, 2011; Hiskey, 2015). Play-Doh, after leaving Kutol and joining Rainbow Crafts Company, was sold to General Mills, which sold it to Hasbro who still owns the right and intellectual property of Play-Doh (Hiskey, 2011).
  • Technological: It’s non-toxic everyday household product chemical mixture allowed it to be safely used by children (Biddle, 2012; Hiskey, 2015; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.). However, the formula was reinvented in 1955 to make it last longer and not dry out so quickly by chemist Dr. Tien Liu (Hiskey, 2011).
  • Financial: Under the wallpaper utility of this product, it sold for 34 cents per can, but under the toy utility of this product the company was able to sell it at $1.50 per can (Hiskey, 2015).


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