For most of us, Play-Doh brings to mind childhood memories of hours spent making art projects and moulds with the colourful clay at school or home. For me it brings memories of quality time with my mom in the kitchen getting my hands dirty and adding drops of red, green, and blue food colouring to mixing bowls of squishy dough as we mixed our own, conjuring up a creative blend of unique colours to start off the play process.
However, few may be aware that its history dates back much further than just your own childhood days. Since its invention in the 1930s, there has been an interesting journey filled with unexpected changes and successes- one which continues to impact businesses today. This story also teaches us to explore hidden potential in every industry, if entrepreneurs are willing to approach their workflows differently and expect the unexpected down the line.
This pliable putty-like substance became an essential part of many households thanks to the ingenious invention by Noah McVicker of Cincinnati-based soap company, Kutol Products. Originally created to clean coal residue from wallpaper. Business was booming. Following World War II, coal-based home heating was replaced by natural gas and a new washable vinyl-based wallpaper was introduced. Less coal residue on the walls meant fewer sales of the successful wallpaper cleaner, and within months Kutol was facing bankruptcy.
Joe McVicker, was the man called in to save the business. Quite honestly, I don’t think Kutol had people banging down their doors for the position, it must have been a bit like trying to keep the Titanic afloat. In times like these you have but two choices, expect the unexpected or stand proudly on deck sipping your last whiskey as the ship gets sucked below the surface.
Luckily for Joe, his sister-in-law, Kay Zufall a nursery schoolteacher had seen a newspaper article about using the wallpaper cleaning putty to make art projects. She decided to experiment with the pliable substance in her classroom and her students loved it, so much so that she convinced Joe and his uncle Noah to manufacture it as a children’s toy. Seeing potential for it to be used as a toy, Kutol reformulated the same doughy material for use for children.
It was Zufall and her husband that came up with the wildly successful name, Play-Doh. The first can of Play-Doh was sold in 1956, whereupon it exploded onto the market and became the colourful play dough we all know and love today.
Now marketed as Play-Doh, there is no other material in the world quite like it — pliable, reusable, and highly entertaining for generations of kids and adults alike. In 2005, more than 95 million cans of Play-Doh were sold in 75 countries. Between 1995 and 2005, a mind-boggling number of more than two billion cans were sold in total.
I think one can successfully say that Joe McVicker did successfully manage to plug the hole in the Titanic.
At first, the colourful compound was primarily used for art projects and classroom activities. However, it didn’t take long before young people recognised its open-ended use in imaginative playtime and carried that tradition on to future generations. Today, parents and even grandparents can recall their own time spent with Play-Doh from childhood and share this classic toy with younger family members—proof of Play-Doh’s enduring legacy as an iconic part of our playtime landscape!
Since it was first invented in the 1930s, Play-Doh has been a favourite medium for creative play. From its traditional use of creating clay sculptures and imaginative shapes out of the substance, there are unique and lesser known ways that Play-Doh can be used. One example is relieving stress by creating squishy designs, rolling it together in a ball and kneading it over and over again. Another is using cookie cutters to make items like name tags or edible decorations for cakes.
Finally, Play-Doh can also be used as a 3D painting tool – by layering different colours onto a canvas it creates an interesting texture that can be manipulated while still wet with something like a toothpick or cotton swab. These possibilities help demonstrates that with the right imagination and creativity, Play-Doh can become almost anything!
With its humble beginnings as wallpaper cleaner, few could have predicted the success that Play-Doh would go on to become. The clever marketing shift to children’s entertainment showed an innovative approach that can be applied to many areas of business today.
Looking at the evolution of Play-Doh throughout history, we can clearly see how an initial idea transformed into one of the most well-known and beloved products by generations of children. From its beginnings as dried up salt dough to its current colourful forms within themed play sets, Play-Doh captivates us with its remarkable ability to open a world of creativity and imagination to young minds across the globe.
Its success serves as a lesson in how an idea, through novelty and creativity, can be adapted and improved over time to become increasingly impactful for audiences today. Its subsequent popularity across different generations and numerous unique applications further speak to its universal appeal. The incredible success of Play-Doh serves as both a testament to its ingenuity and a reminder that anything is possible when you focus on creating something that is truly innovative.
As we look back at the history of Play-Doh, let us remember these lessons about innovation and harness the ability to expect the unexpected in our own creative pursuits today.
Cultivate a Culture of Innovation & Creativity
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