Play-Doh has been a classic children’s toy for so many generations that it’s hard to imagine it was invented to be anything other than a fun, squishable way for kids to show off their creativity.
But it turns out it was a wallpaper cleaner, first. Back in the late 1920s, a man named Cleo McVicker convinced the parent company of Kutol, a failing Cincinnati soap company, to let him and his brother, Noah McVicker, try and turn the brand around, .
When they learned that executives at Kroger grocery stores were looking for a new wallpaper cleaning product to help people remove the soot their coal-burning furnaces left on their walls, the McVicker brothers invented an early version of the now-famous kid’s toy. But instead of shaping it into fun designs, adults used the off-white dough to roll across their dirty walls to collect soot.
After Cleo McVicker’s death in 1949, his son and son-in-law decided they needed to reinvent their company, since the invention of vinyl wallpaper (which could be easily cleaned with soap and water) and the growing popularity of oil and gas furnaces meant that people weren’t buying their wallpaper cleaner as much anymore.
McVicker’s son, Joseph McVicker, eventually decided to rebrand the wallpaper cleaner as a children’s toy when he found out that his sister-in-law had used it at the nursery school she ran as an inexpensive material for the children to make Christmas ornaments with in the early ‘50s.
By 1956, Kutol became Rainbow Crafts Company Inc. and started manufacturing Play-Doh as an off-white modeling compound sold in one-gallon cans. Eventually, they started selling smaller containers in the colors blue, red, and yellow, and it quickly became a nationwide success. To date, Play-Doh’s current parent company, Hasbro, says they have sold more than 3 billion cans in 80 countries around the world.
However, Play-Doh’s days as a handy cleaning tool aren’t completely over.
Since the detergents were removed from Play-Doh when it started being marketed as a toy, you can’t use it to clean your walls anymore, but there are a few other popular hacks that can use it for, including or getting in your car.
Follow CQ on .