The Story of Play-Doh

National Play-Doh Day

Reading Comprehension for September 18

A new children's item showed up in schools back in 1955. That year, on the 18th of September, young students were introduced to Play-Doh.

Do you remember the last time you played with this modeling compound? Do you remember the squishy, cold feel of it and the odd smell of it? In its first year, Play-Doh came in off-white only. The following year when it appeared on store shelves, it was available in red, yellow, and blue. Nearly 25 years later, four more colors were added to the line. In 1992 Play-Doh was updated to include glow-in-the-dark and sparkling colors. A few years later, gold and silver Play-Doh was created to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Play-Doh Pete, the toy's mascot, has been featured on the container since 1960. Over two billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold since 1956! Picture the cans strung together and wrapped around the world more than 300 hundred times. Picture the scale where the Play-Doh is weighing in at 700 million pounds. That's a whole lot of modeling clay!

You might be surprised to learn that Play-Doh began its life as wallpaper cleaner! The user would take the glob in his or her hand and rub it down the wallpaper to remove coal soot. The glob would take on a dirty tinge that got darker with continued use. The user would stretch and knead the dough until the dirty part was hidden. Once the "clean" was all gone, the dirty dough went in the trash can.

By the mid-1950s sales of wallpaper cleaner were dropping. Coal-burning furnaces were being replaced with modern heating methods. People didn't need to clean their wallpaper anymore. Kutol Chemicals was losing profits. Joe McVicker needed some advice. The idea for Play-Doh might have come about in the following way.

Imagine the McVicker family seated around the living room after indulging in a huge Sunday dinner. The talk turns from the delicious meal to the family business.

Kay Zufall, a nursery school teacher, looks over at her sister, who is married to Joe McVicker. "Tell me how I'm supposed to help my preschoolers with their fine motor skills with nothing to manipulate except clay that is as hard as a rock," she says of the hard-to-mold clay.

Meanwhile, Joe, age 26, looks at his younger brother, Noah, and says, "We've got problems. We're going to be in a world of hurt if we don't find another use for all those blobs of dough sitting in the warehouse. I'll be broke by my next birthday!"

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