In the fall of 1957, the young (and maybe the young-at-heart) had fun squishing, rolling, stretching, and shaping one of the newest toys on the market, Play-Doh. The non-toxic, easy-to-clean-up-after compound was first manufactured in the 1930’s as a pliable, putty-like wallpaper cleaner, created by Noah McVicker for Kutol Products. Noah’s nephew, Joe, who also worked for the Cincinnati family’s soap company, discovered in the late ’40s that schoolchildren were using the compound to make Christmas ornaments.
Recognizing a promising business opportunity, Joe took the white concoction made of flour, water, salt, boric acid, and silicone oil to a school supply manufacturers convention. Department store Woodward & Lothrup of Washington, DC became his first commercial account. In 1956, the McVickers founded Rainbow Crafts Company to focus exclusively on Play-Doh production and sales, introducing colored dough with a three-pack of 7 ounce cans in red, yellow, and blue. Retail behemoths Macy’s of New York City and Marshall Field’s of Chicago soon opened retail accounts and in 1957 a chemist named Dr. Tien Liu improved the product recipe by reducing Play-Doh’s required salt content. Lowering the amount of salt “kneaded” in the clay allowed precious creations to dry without losing their color.
Also in 1957, the McVickers’ started advertising campaigns in children’s television programming. Breaks during Captain Kangaroo, Ding Dong School, and Romper Room showed America’s children how much fun Play-Doh could be, and by 1958 Rainbow Crafts’ sales of Play-Doh had reached almost $3 million. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association listed Play-Doh as one of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.