Rainbow Crafts (1956–1971)
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Play-Doh is a modeling compound used by young children for arts and crafts projects at home. The product was first manufactured in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s. Play-Doh was then reworked and marketed to Cincinnati schools in the mid-1950s. Play-Doh was demonstrated at an educational convention in 1956 and prominent department stores opened retail accounts.
Advertisements promoting Play-Doh on influential children's television shows in 1957 furthered the product's sales. Since its launch on the toy market in the mid-1950s, Play-Doh has generated a considerable amount of ancillary merchandise such as the Fun Factory.
The non-toxic, non-staining, reusable modeling compound that came to be known as "Play-Doh" was a pliable, putty-like substance concocted by Noah McVicker of Cincinnati-based soap manufacturer Kutol Products. It was devised at the request of Kroger Grocery, which wanted a product that could clean coal residue from wallpaper.
Following World War II, with the transition from coal-based home heating to natural gas and the resulting decrease in internal soot, and the introduction of washable vinyl-based wallpaper, the market for wallpaper cleaning putty decreased substantially. McVicker's nephew, Joe McVicker, joined Kutol with the remit to save the company from bankruptcy. Joe McVicker was the brother-in-law of nursery school teacher Kay Zufall, who had seen a newspaper article about making art projects with the wallpaper cleaning putty. Her students enjoyed it, and she persuaded Noah McVicker (who also sold the putty) and Joe McVicker to manufacture it as a child’s toy. Zufall and her husband came up with the name Play-Doh; Joe McVicker and his uncle Noah had wanted to call it "Rainbow Modeling Compound".
Joe McVicker took Play-Doh to an educational convention for manufacturers of school supplies, and Woodward & Lothrop, a department store in Washington, DC began selling the compound. In 1956, the McVickers formed the Rainbow Crafts Company to make and sell Play-Doh. Also in 1956, a three-pack of 7-ounce cans was added to the product line, and, after in-store demonstrations, Macy's of New York and Marshall Field's of Chicago opened retail accounts. In 1957, chemist Dr. Tien Liu reduced Play-Doh's salt content (thus allowing models to dry without losing their color), and Play-Doh ads were telecast on Captain Kangaroo, Ding Dong School, and Romper Room. In 1958, Play-Doh's sales reached nearly $3 million.
In 1964, Play-Doh was exported to Britain, France, and Italy. By 1965, Rainbow Crafts issued a patent for Play-Doh. Also in 1965, General Mills bought Rainbow Crafts for $3 million. In 1971, Rainbow Crafts and Kenner Products merged, and, in 1987, the Tonka Corporation bought the two. In the 1980s, its cardboard can (with a rust-prone metal bottom) was replaced with a more cost effective plastic container. In 1991, Hasbro became the owner of Play-Doh, and continues to manufacture the product today. In 1996, gold and silver were added to Play-Doh's palette to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Play-Doh packaging was briefly illustrated with children in the mid-1950s, but replaced by the Play-Doh Pixie, an elf mascot which, in 1960, was superseded by Play-Doh Pete, a smock and beret-wearing cartoonish boy.   By 1992, Play Doh's Pete's beret were re-coloured in blue, and his eyes were given a more human look, and later in 2000, Play-Doh Pete's beret had been replaced with a baseball cap, few years later, the mascot "Pete" was later retied and removed in 2003, lasting for the past 42 years. Since 2012, the Doh-Dohs are the mascots.
Play-Doh's current manufacturer, Hasbro, says the compound is primarily a mixture of water, salt, and flour, while its 2004 United States patent indicates it is composed of water, a starch-based binder, a retrogradation inhibitor, salt, lubricant, surfactant, preservative, hardener, humectant, fragrance, and color.
A petroleum additive gives the compound a smooth feel, and borax prevents mold from developing. Play-Doh contains some wheat and may cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to wheat gluten. It is not intended to be eaten.
In 1960, the Play-Doh Fun Factory (a toy press that extrudes the compound in various shapes) was invented by Bob Boggild and Bill Dale. The Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop of 1977 and Mop Top Hair Shop of 1986 featured a figurine whose extruded "hair" could be styled.
In 1995 an educational software CD-ROM game, Play-Doh Creations was released.
In 2003, the Play-Doh Creativity Table was sold. Play-Doh related merchandise introduced during the 2007 anniversary year included the Play-Doh Birthday Bucket, the Play-Doh Fifty Colors Pack, the Fuzzy Pumper Crazy Cuts (a reworking of the 1977 Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop), and the Play-Doh Creativity Center. In 2012, "Play-Doh Plus" was introduced. It is lighter, more pliable, and softer than regular Play-Doh.
More than two billion cans of Play-Doh were sold between 1955 and 2005, and, in 2005, Play-Doh was being sold in 75 countries at 95 million cans a year. In the United States, more than 6,000 stores carry Play-Doh.
To mark Play-Doh's fiftieth anniversary, Demeter Fragrance Library created a limited-edition fragrance inspired by Play-Doh's distinctive odor for "highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood."
In 2003, the Toy Industry Association placed Play-Doh into its "Century of Toys List", a roll call of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the twentieth century.
In late 2014, the company offered to replace the "Play-Doh Cake Mountain" playset's extruder tool, for free, after receiving complaints about the tool's "phallic shape".
On April 2, 2015, 20th Century Fox announced work on a movie with Hasbro Studios along with its subsidiary company Allspark Pictures and Chernin Entertainment producing, Jason Micallef writing, and Paul Feig directing from his production company Feigco.
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- "Accidental Brands", from Under the Influence, by Terry O'Reilly, on CBC.ca; first broadcast March 17, 2012
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- Noah W. McVicker and Joseph S. McVicker, "Plastic modeling composition of a soft, pliable working consistency," U.S. patent no. 3,167,440 (filed: May 17, 1960; issued: January 26, 1965).
- "The 50 Year History of Play-Doh". 2006. Archived from the original on May 15, 2006. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
- Whatever Happened to Play-Doh Pete?
- "Google Patents". Retrieved July 28, 2014.
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- Respers France, Lisa. "Play-Doh will exchange phallic-shaped toy". CNN.com. Retrieved January 3, 2015.
- Fleming, Jr, Mike (April 2, 2015). "Fox Molding 'Play-Doh' Film With Paul Feig Circling; Another Hasbro Toy Brand Making Movie Transfer". Deadline.
- Play-Doh began as wall cleaner | Our History
- Playmakers Part II: Play-Doh
- The Accidental Invention of Play-Doh, by David Kindy, smithsonian.com, November 12, 2019
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