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How Play-Doh’s makers got themselves out of a sticky situation

Leah Goulis, November 14, 2019 6:45PM

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No one wanted to play with Play-Doh in the 1950s, until the company that made it did some creative thinking and turned it into a kids’ craft product. media_cameraNo one wanted to play with Play-Doh in the 1950s, until the company that made it did some creative thinking and turned it into a kids’ craft product.

just for fun

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It’s the classic kid’s toy your parents either love (because it gets creative juices flowing) or hate (because the colours ALWAYS get mixed up!).

But as it turns out, Play-Doh wasn’t originally meant for your enjoyment at all.

When it was first made in the 1930s, the modelling compound* was actually sold as a wallpaper cleaner.

The product, which was only available in white at the time, was pitched to Kroger grocery stores by brothers Cleo and Noah McVicker, after the store was on the hunt for a miracle product that would help people remove the soot from coal-burning heaters off their walls.

But as customers turned to soap and water to clean their dirty walls and more and more families relied on burning oil and gas instead of charcoal, sales decreased and the product was reinvented.

After discovering some teachers were turning to the product for children to play with, the founders realised it had potential in a very different way and it was reworked and marketed to schools in the 1950s.

To state the obvious, it was popular, and by 1965, the product was available in tubs of a variety of colours we find in toy stores today.

This 24 May, 2006 image shows a bottle of "Play-Doh" cologne (C), a fragrance released by Pawtucket, Rhode Island.-based toymaker Hasbro and the Demeter Fragrance Libray, the cologne�s New York manufacturer and distributor, as part of a year-long celebration of the beloved modeling compound's 50th birthday. "Play-Doh" compound's distinctive aroma will be available in a limited-edition 1-ounce spray bottle priced at 19 USD and a four-ounce (113 gram) bottle for 39.50 USD. A can of Play-Doh costs about 50 cents USD. Signatures of the Play-Doh brand is its scent,� Play-Doh is one of those scents that seems to evoke a very strong emotional response in everyone, because we all remember those good times as kids playing with Play-Doh," said Mark C media_cameraTo celebrate its 50th birthday in 2006, the company produced Play-Doh cologne (perfume), which smelled just like Play-Doh!

But before you start cleaning the house with leftover bits found in the bottom of your toy box, sadly we can’t use it as a cleaner anymore. The detergents were removed when the product was reinvented as a children’s toy, meaning it will clean zip* from your walls now.

Cleaning up pesky crumbs from the floor at home, however … yep, we’re happy to report that still works!

Play-Doh: Five Fun Facts (The Wall Street Journal)

It is possible to make your own version of Play-Doh, called playdough. (Dough is the proper spelling of the word dough, by the way, in case you’re wondering.)

Many preschool and primary teachers, parents and grandparents already know how. Maybe you do too and have your own favourite recipe. There are many variations.

But there’s a big divide: to cook or not to cook? Some people use recipes that combine ingredients without heating the dough, which makes it a safer activity if children are doing it. Others cook the ingredients in a saucepan on the stovetop, which means the dough combines easily to a smooth result with little kneading.

Homemade Play-Doh media_cameraMonica Shepherd and daughter Eva have some fun with homemade playdough in their backyard. Picture: Mark Stewart

Here are just two of the many recipes for making your own playdough. Let us know how you go in the comments section below.


  • 1 cup flour
  • 250ml (1 cup) water
  • 1/2 cup cooking salt
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 60ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
  • food colouring


  1. Mix the flour, water, salt and cream of tartar in a saucepan over medium heat until thick.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool and then add the oil and knead over a floured cutting board or similar.
  3. Divide this blob evenly into as many colours as you’d like to make.
  4. Add food colouring to each ball until it is the colour you like.


  • 1 cup salt
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 60ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
  • food colouring
  • 250ml (1 cup) water


  1. Mix the salt and flour then add oil.
  2. Add the food colouring to the water.
  3. Slowly add the water to the mixture until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. The more you knead the better the texture will be so really get into it!

This article and recipes originally appeared on Kidspot and have been republished here with permission.


  • compound: mixture
  • zip: zero


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  1. Why did people stop getting sooty wallpaper?
  2. When did the company begin marketing it to schools?
  3. What does Play-Doh pick up if you drop it on the floor?
  4. Name one advantage and one disadvantage of the cooked playdough recipe.
  5. What extra ingredient does the cooked playdough recipe have?


1. Target your audience
Advertising is best aimed at the people most likely to buy your product. When ‘Play-Doh’ (although not likely called that) was first marketed, it was as a wall cleaner. When it was remarketed, it was pitched to teachers for use in schools. And finally, it is now aimed at children (in the hope they will nag their parents or carers to buy it for them).

Work with two other people to create three A5-size pamphlet advertisements for this product. Each person can concentrate on one advertisement.

  • Advertisement One – market the product as a cleaning product.
  • Advertisement Two – market the product to teachers, schools and kindergartens.
  • Advertisement Three – market the product to children.

For each advertisement consider who your audience is, what they will be looking for in this type of product, what aspects of Play-Doh will be significant to highlight for each, what should it be called, what sort of colour/design will attract people from this demographic.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Visual & Media Arts, Personal and Social Capabilities, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Choose one of the above recipes or use your own and make some playdough for you and your classmates to play with. Organise yourself into a small group (4-6 people, although this could be done as a class too). As a group create a scene made completely of playdough. Firstly, decide on a theme for your scene (For example, a day at the beach, playground mayhem, classroom antics, football fun). Within your group organise what parts of the scene each member will make and set about creating it. Make your creations as detailed as possible, and try to make them to scale. You can use lots of different coloured playdough or create your whole scene in one colour.

If you have playdough tools you can use those to help you or you can just model with your hands. 

When you have finished take a photo of your work to remember it. Then squish your playdough back into a ball and store it in an airtight container so you can make something else another time.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you prefer Play-Doh or homemade playdough? Do you still play with it now you’re older?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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