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We’re technically four days overdue, but from the Trivia
Geek’s perspective, no time is a bad time to celebrate National Play-Doh® Day,
even though this festivity officially falls on Sept. 18. (Sept. 22 is actually
Elephant Appreciation Day—whoever gets to pick these official days is a subject
worthy of a future column—so you traditionalists can all go out and rent a copy
In honor of this hallowed four-days-past event, I present
you with some interesting Play-Doh statistics, courtesy of the current
manufacturer of the world’s most famous name-brand, nontoxic, faux modeling
Washington, D.C.’s Woodward & Lothrop department store was
the first venue to bring packages of Play-Doh to the public in 1956. In the 48
years since, various manufacturers have collectively churned out more than 2
billion cans containing more than 700 million pounds (that’s more than 317
million kilograms) of Play-Doh.
For the record, that’s almost twice the size of the Grand
Coulee Dam in Washington State, the largest dam in North America. Put in
astronomical terms, the collective Play-Doh mass is about half that of the
asteroid Eunomia, which was big enough to get noticed as far back as 1851. For
its own part, Hasbro suggests running that mass though its own Fun Factory
Play-Doh accessory, which would result in a continuous strand of Play-Doh long
enough to wrap around the equator 300 times.
In other words, the world has seen a whole lot of Play-Doh,
arguably enough for the full tally of the stuff to be visible from space. So
whom do we thank for this bounty of malleable mischief that has led to
countless hours of fun, foolishness, and inexorable carpet stains?
That would be Noah W. and Joseph S. McVicker, who received U.S.
patent No. 3,167,440 in 1956 for their soft, pliable modeling compound. There’s
just one catch: This plucky pair of inventors didn’t design this
now-world-famous substance as a toy, but for a far more mundane, practical
WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE FOR THE MALLEABLE SUBSTANCE WE
NOW CALL PLAY-DOH?
What was the original intended purpose for the soft,
malleable compound we now know as the classic toy Play-Doh®, actually conceived
for a mundane, practical application?
Brace yourself, boys and girls: Play-Doh began its journey
in this world as a wallpaper cleaner. If nothing else, that should at least
partially explain the clinical odor many children and parents have come to know
as “the Play-Doh smell,” since this toy shares some of its ancestry
with household cleansers.
When Noah W. and Joseph S. McVicker came up with the still-secret
Play-Doh formula in the mid-1950s, they did it under the banner of Cincinnati
product manufacturer Kutol, which developed the compound as a wallpaper cleaner
called Cincy. When Kutol’s financial fortunes began to falter, the McVickers
decided to try a radical solution—they would market their nontoxic,
supermalleable Cincy as a toy.
Play-Doh’s name ostensibly comes from what little is
publicly known of the compound’s ingredients—flour, water, and salt—which it
shares with similarly viscous bread dough. The fact that the original product
was available only in one color (off-white) probably didn’t hurt the dough
What’s the only major difference between the original Cincy
cleanser and Play-Doh? The smell: Believe it or not, the McVickers actually
tried to cover Play-Doh’s unique aroma by adding an artificial almond scent,
which was reputedly an improvement over the original scent, but is nonetheless
(ahem) distinctive, even today.
The McVickers test-marketed their idea to Cincinnati-area schools
in 1955, which inspired enough confidence for them to demonstrate and sell
Play-Doh the following year. Sales immediately took off, and by the time the
first primary-colored versions of Play-Doh hit store shelves in 1957, a toy
phenomenon was born. Most Americans first remember Play-Doh television
advertisements appearing on the classic children’s program Captain Kangaroo that same year, a campaign that all but sealed
Play-Doh’s fate as a toy for the ages.
Over the past five decades, ownership of the Play-Doh patent
has changed hands five times, but the formula—and the aroma—have remained
essentially the same. When you’ve got a toy—and Geek Trivia—this good, there’s just
no reason to change.
Help choose GeekRepublic’s RSS feeds
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The Quibble of the Week
If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.
This quibble comes from TechRepublic member Bamaro. It refers to the Sept. 1
edition of Geek Trivia, “Can’t
place that name.” It may be nitpicky, but that’s what we’re
“My quibble is that tropical storms are named—not hurricanes.
When a tropical storm grows to hurricane force, they simply keep the name of
the tropical storm.”
While I never said otherwise, dear reader, I should have
spelled it out more plainly. Thanks for quibbling me honest.
The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.