Can a low-tech modeling compound invented by two guys from Cincinnati survive in a video-savvy market? That’s Play-Doh’s challenge as it turns 50 this year. And our money is on a long run for the colorful goo.
Mention it to anyone boomer generation or younger and their eyes light up. “It’s 50?” they’ll ask. Then they launch into a Play-Doh moment — modeling with it, grinding it into the carpet, feeding it to the dog.
Play-Doh’s low cost and ease of use make it ideal for learning to make things and getting creative away from the TV, says child development and toy expert Stevanne Auerbach, aka Dr. Toy, author of “Smart Play, Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child With a High PQ (Play Quotient).”
“They learn how to manipulate materials. They learn how to use their fingers and their eye coordination,” Auerbach says. “They learn how to improve what they make. Each time they make something, it gets better and better. This is essential for the experience of children.”
And FYI: In small amounts, it won’t hurt the dog, since it’s made primarily of salt, water and flour. (The exact recipe is a trade secret.) Just don’t make it a diet staple.
Play-Doh through the years
1955: Modeling compound is introduced by its inventors, Noah and Joseph McVickers, in select schools and nursery schools.
1956: Play-Doh modeling compound, a nontoxic reusable modeling compound developed by Rainbow Crafts in Cincinnati, is demonstrated and sold in the toy department of Woodward & Lothrop Department Store in Washington, D.C. It comes only in one color and size, an off-white, 1 1 /2-pound can.
1957: Three new colors join the Play-Doh line — yellow, red and blue — and the three-can pack is introduced. Early TV advertising features Miss Frances on Ding Dong School and Captain Kangaroo. 1958: Play-Doh compound four-pack — with red, yellow, blue and white compounds — debuts at American Toy Fair.
1960: The new Fun Factory play set expands the line. Play-Doh Pete logo is created.
1963: Two-ounce minicans are introduced.
1964: Play-Doh goes international with distribution in England, France and Italy.
1970: The Play-Doh Pete TV commercial is voted into the top 100 best commercials by Advertising Age.
1971: Kenner Products merges with Rainbow Crafts. Play-Doh becomes part of Kenner.
1972: Play-Doh produces its 500 millionth can.
1983: Rainbow eight-pack makes its debut.
1986: Cardboard containers are replaced after 30 years with tightly sealed plastic cans.
1991: Play-Doh joins Hasbro as part of the Playskool line when Hasbro purchases the Tonka Corp. and its Kenner and Parker Brothers divisions.
1996: Play-Doh turns 40 and introduces gold and silver colors. Brand also goes high-tech with Play-Doh Creations, an educational software program for kids.
1997: The Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop play set, featuring a play figure whose “hair” can be extruded and then styled, is reintroduced. First version appeared in 1977.
2000: The Play-Doh Colorful Campaign collects more than 100,000 votes to determine the country’s favorite Play-Doh colors. Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Blue Lagoon and Garden Green win.
2006: Play-Doh turns 50. Hasbro introduces the Play-Doh Birthday Bucket and 50-pack of colors that includes six new pastels.