17. Play-Doh

Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

Contributor: Elise Stein

Childhood Studies major


Play-Doh is a popular toy that most children remember being exposed to during their childhood. Joseph McVicker, the creator of Play-Doh, did not have the intention for the product to be initially for children. Joe McVicker’s uncle, Noah McVicker, was a soap-manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio for Kutol Products Company. In the 1930’s, the original purpose of Play-Doh was intended as a cleaning product for removing coal off of wallpaper(1). Later on, in the early 1950’s Joe discovered that a local school in Cincinnati had been using their product as modelling clay in the classrooms. This new type of clay had been easier for the students to mold and shape. Therefore, Joe chose to send out their product to all schools in Cincinnati. Thus, Joe’s and Noah’s creation had become popular within educational institutions (2).

In 1955, Joe decided to enter their product in a national education convention (3). In 1956, their entry into the convention soon resulted in the successful creation of Play-Doh.  Later on, Joe and Noah had formed a company called Rainbow Crafts in order to make Play-Doh known throughout children’s material culture. Today, Hasbro is the current owner of Play-Doh. In addition, Hasbro’s current price for a ten-pack of assorted Play-Doh colors is retailed at $4.99 (4). A variety of colors are sold today which includes the classic Play-Doh colors: blue, red, white, and yellow. 

Play-Doh is an educational tool made for children to express their imagination and creativity. This modelling clay compound can be found in homes and schools, which is where children are learning their skills the most. Children of all ages crave the new popular toy that is seen in commercials or stores (5). In addition, children love the interaction between the toy and themselves. Play-Doh can be molded, squished, squashed, or rolled into their favorite things. Thus, Play-Doh displays “a range of purposes, relevant to life, expand level of play, encompass a range of developmental skills, and be fun and capture interest” (6). Utilizing Play-Doh in schools and homes brings forth improved spatial coordination while allowing the children to be expressive. Children are capable of making anything they imagine. Through a child’s interaction with Play-Doh the child’s thoughts and beliefs come to life by what they configure.


 1. Townsend, Allie. "All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys." Time. Time Inc., 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 04 Oct. 2014.

2. "Play-Doh." National Toy Hall of Fame. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2014.

3. Meehan, Meagan. "History of Play-Doh (Video)." New York Examiner (NY) 18 Aug. 2013, NY Homeschooling Examiner. NewsBank. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

4.  "PLAY-DOH CASE OF COLORS." Play-Doh at HasbroToyShop.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2014.

5. Meehan, Meagan. "History of Play-Doh (Video)." New York Examiner (NY) 18 Aug. 2013, NY Homeschooling Examiner. NewsBank. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

6. Ibid.


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Thanks Elise for your description! I would like to add that Joe's description of Play Doh's creation might not be completely accurate. I had the opportunity to watch the uncut interviews that Tim Walsh conducted for his documentary ToyLand at The Strong National Museum of Play. In his uncut interview with Kay Zufall, Joe's sister-in-law and a school teacher, she explains that she told him of the idea of using wallpaper remover for  sculpting media. She had read it in a journal: “I read in this magazine, I think it was even an asterisk look below, that said ‘you can use wallpaper cleaner at the daycare center and the children will mold ornaments out of that.' Oh, thought I! Wallpaper cleaner! A toy [laughs]. Which of course, was the beginning of um the birth process of play-doh. […] So I whistled out to the local hardware store and bought some wallpaper cleaner.” (this is my transcription from my notes)

This is, of course, emblemic of the larger ways women's contributions, and even speaking up for their contributions, are marginalized.