Play-Doh and Its Unusual Original Purpose

February 22, 2023

Cans of Play-Doh

Play-Doh has been loved by kids for years as a way to make just about anything, but Play-Doh’s original purpose wasn’t as modeling clay as it is today. It was supposed to be used as a wallpaper cleaner.

The “later to be fun” dough was first introduced in the 1930s by a company called Kutol. It was made so people could clean coal soot from their walls since coal was used at the time to heat their homes. But a problem arose when the 1950s rolled around. People began using alternatives to coal to heat their homes, such as natural gas and oil, both of which were cleaner to burn. This change would have eventually spelled the end for Kutol’s product if someone hadn’t found a different use for it.

That problem was solved by Joe McVicker, the nephew of one of the original inventors of the Kutol wallpaper cleaning dough. McVicker’s sister-in-law, who was a nursery school teacher, told him she had been using the Kutol product with her students during arts and crafts. It was then that Joe McVicker realized this same dough could be used in other schools.

McVicker began shipping the dough to schools around Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Kutol company was located. The new craft clay got a boost when McVicker took it to an education conference in 1955, and the product began being sold at a department store in Washington, DC. In 1956, the McVicker’s family founded the Rainbow Crafts Company, and the wallpaper cleaner dough became Play-Doh. It was soon selling at Macy’s and Marshall Field’s. Its popularity grew further when it was featured on the Captain Kangaroo show as well as other children’s’ shows in the late 1950s.

Play-Doh was originally only in white, and the cleaning substance that got the coal soot off walls was removed. The product was later expanded to the colors of red, yellow, and blue in 1958 and eight different colors in the 1980s. About 80 million cans of Play-Doh are sold every year, and about 3 billion cans have been sold since the dough’s inception. Play-Doh was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Sources: Toy Hall of Fame, Adweek, Wonderopolis

Additional Reading: Bubble Wrap Was Supposed to be Wallpaper

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

Follow the Stew