Noah McVicker

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If you were a kid growing up any time between the mid-1950s and today, you probably know what Play-Doh is. You can most likely even conjure the bright colors and distinctive smell right from memory. It sure is an odd substance, and that's probably because it was originally invented by Noah McVicker as a compound to clean wallpaper.

Coal Dust Cleaner

In the early 1930s, Noah McVicker was working for the Cinncinati-based soap manufacturer Kutol Products, which was asked by Kroger Grocery to develop something that would clean coal residue from wallpaper. But after World War II, manufacturers introduced a washable vinyl wallpaper to the market. Sales of the cleaning putty dropped, and Kutol started concentrating on liquid soaps.

McVicker's Nephew Has an Idea

In the late 1950s, Noah McVicker's nephew Joseph McVicker (who also worked for Kutol) received a call from his sister-in-law, nursery school teacher Kay Zufall, who had recently read a newspaper article explaining how children were making art projects with the wallpaper cleaning putty. She urged Noah and Joseph to manufacture and market the compound as a toy putty for children.

A Pliable Toy

According to the website for the toy company Hasbro, which owns Play-Doh, in 1956 the McVickers established the Rainbow Crafts Company in Cincinnati to manufacture and sell the putty, which Joseph named Play-Doh. It was first demonstrated and sold a year later, in the toy department of Woodward & Lothrop Department Store in Washington, D.C. The first Play-Doh Compound came only in an off-white, one-and-a-half-pound can, but by 1957, the company introduced the distinctive red, yellow, and blue colors.

Noah McVicker and Joseph McVicker were finally granted their patent (U.S. Patent No. 3,167,440) in 1965, 10 years after Play-Doh was first introduced. The formula remains a trade secret to this day, with Hasbro admitting only that it remains primarily a water-, salt-, and flour-based product. Although non-toxic, it should not be eaten.

Play-Doh Trademarks

The original Play-Doh logo, comprised of the words in white script inside a red trefoil-shaped graphic, has changed little over the years. At one point it was accompanied by an elf mascot, which was replaced in 1960 by Play-Doh Pete, a boy wearing a beret. Pete was eventually joined by a series of cartoon-like animals. In 2011, Hasbro introduced the talking Play-Doh cans, the official mascots featured on the product's cans and boxes. Along with the putty itself, now available in an array of bright colors, parents can also purchase kits featuring a series of extruders, stamps, and molds.

Play-Doh Changes Hands

In 1965, the McVickers sold Rainbow Crafts Company to General Mills, who merged it with Kenner Products in 1971. They, in turn, were folded into the Tonka Corporation in 1989, and two years later, Hasbro bought the Tonka Corporation and transferred Play-Doh to its Playskool division.

Fun Facts

To date, over seven hundred million pounds of Play-Doh have been sold. So distinctive is its smell, that Demeter Fragrance Library commemorated the toy's 50th anniversary by creating a limited-edition perfume for "highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood." The toy even has its own commemorative day, National Play-Doh Day, on September 18.

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Bellis, Mary. "Noah McVicker." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). Noah McVicker. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Noah McVicker." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).