The Amazing Story Behind the Invention of Play-Doh

Founded in 1912, the primary product of Kutol Products in Cincinnati was a wallpaper cleaning compound. This soft and pliable compound was used for wiping soot from the wallpapers in many households. But when the product was no longer in demand, the future of the firm turned bleak. Fortunately, one family member had a game-changing idea of letting the kids play with it. Enter Play-Doh and the childhood of all the kids in the world has never been the same!

The Company

During the early 20th century, Kutol Products had become the largest manufacturer of wallpaper cleaners in the world. But their fortune began to face a downfall in the 1950s, with the modern invention of energy substitutes. Due to the transition from coal heating to gas, cleaner oil, and electricity, the sooty buildup on room wallpapers was no longer a troubling issue in many households.

The Invention

While the company owner, Joseph McVicker, was trying hard to turn around the prospect of the struggling Kutol Products, his sister-in-law, Kay Zufall, read an article somewhere about how the wallpaper cleaner could be used as material for modeling projects. Being a nursery school teacher, an ingenious idea struck her head, and Zufall tested the non-toxic compound with her school children. When she saw the little ones molding the compound into all kinds of shapes and loving it, she became sure about her idea. Zufall told McVicker of her discovery and suggested marketing the compound as a toy for children. She also came up with a new name, Play-Doh.

The Impact

According to the vice president of collections at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, Christopher Bensch, the ingenious invention of Play-Doh is a tale of technological obsolescence with a happy ending. The realization of the better role of the compound turned around a struggling company’s fortune almost overnight! Today a playtime phenomenon, the Play-Doh Modeling Compound has grown into a global franchise. Now owned by Hasbro, Play-Doh is almost a rite of passage for kids worldwide, allowing them to be more creative while having fun. According to Fortune magazine, since its debut in the market as a kids’ toy in 1956, Play-Doh has sold more than 3 billion cans so far. This figure eclipses its previous existence as a wallpaper cleaning compound by light-years. The beloved dough was even inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998 at the Strong Museum.