FARGO — Play-Doh has entertained children for more than 60 years, but did you know the colorful dough started out as wallpaper cleaner?
Monday, Sept. 16, is National Play-Doh Day, a day to reflect on this 1998 National Toy Hall of Fame inductee with a less-than-playful beginning.
In 1933, the Kutol Products soap company was in financial hot water when an enterprising employee named Cleo McVicker found out the Kroger grocery store chain was looking for a ready-made wallpaper cleaner to sell in their stores. According to the National Museum of Play blog, Kutol had never made wallpaper cleaner before, but McVicker and his brother Noah, a product developer, took on the challenge and came up with a claylike compound made from flour, salt and water that was also non-toxic and malleable.
The cleaner was successful enough to keep the Kutol company in the black for another 20 years.
But by the 1950s, sales lagged, in part, because Americans were changing the way they heated their homes. Prior to World War II, homes were heated with coal-based furnaces, which in turn caused a soot buildup on wallpaper. After the war, more people turned to cleaner oil and gas home heating. Suddenly, wallpaper didn't need to be cleaned as frequently.
Kutol's wallpaper cleaning clay seemed doomed, but fate stepped in — in the form of schoolchildren. In 1955, McVicker's sister-in-law, a teacher, told him she had been using the compound in her classroom because students found real modeling clay too difficult to mold. The company made the shift from wallpaper cleaner manufacturer to toy maker.
By 1956, Play-Doh was being sold to children all over America. In the years to follow, the compound got softer, color choices expanded and more accessories were sold. It's estimated that children have played with more than 700 million pounds of Play-Doh.
Other holidays this week
- Monday, Sept. 16: Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day
- Tuesday, Sept. 17: Apple Dumpling Day
- Wednesday, Sept. 18: Air Force Birthday
- Thursday, Sept. 19: Talk Like a Pirate Day
- Friday, Sept. 20: Pepperoni Pizza Day
- Saturday, Sept. 21: New York Day
- Sunday, Sept. 22: Ice Cream Cone Day