Everyone has played with Play-Doh as a child—it is a staple in households across the United States, and is one of the greatest selling toys of all time, according to Time Magazine. Yet, surprisingly, this enjoyable (yet slightly odd-smelling) toy was not originally meant to be used for fun. Play-Doh was originally designed as a cleaning material, the exact opposite of its current use (as all of us know who have ever had to try to clean up Play-Doh squished into carpets and clothing).
Noah and Joseph McVicker originally designed Play-Doh though Kutol Products, a soap-manufacturing company based out of Cincinnati. At this time, before World War II, coal was a common source of heat in homes across the United States, and would leave large soot stains on the walls. Play-Doh was effective at removing these stains, and if we continued to use coal as a household heat source, that’s all it would ever have been used for. Yet after the war, the more popular heat source became natural gas, and the original Play-Doh was no longer useful. Kutol was going out of business, and Play-Doh would no longer be produced.
Yet, conveniently, Joseph McVicker’s sister was a schoolteacher, and needed a modeling dough to use in her classroom. Thus, in the early 1950s Play-Doh began the transformation from a cleaning supply to a children’s toy. The product began testing in 1955, and the next year the company Rainbow Crafts was founded to market the new Play-Doh.
Now, have you ever wondered where the odd, easily distinguishable smell of Play-Doh comes from? This fact also lies in the products beginnings as a cleaning material. McVicker is said to have added an artificial almond scent to the product to mask its original cleaning aroma.
Thus, thanks to the advent of natural gas and the decline of coal, children for almost sixty years have played with one of the most popular toys of all time.