In the beginning, Play Doh was actually ‘Kutol Wall Cleaner: Non-Crumbly Type’
Until about 1950, coal furnaces were used to heat homes in the United States. The soot from these furnaces darkened the wallpaper. Therefore, homemakers spent a lot of time cleaning them. They made up a concoction of all-purpose flour (maida, if you’re Indian), water, salt and borax (a common ingredient used in cleaning solutions). They rolled the dough up and down the wallpaper to wipe off the soot. But, it was quite the workout!
But that’s not the success story.
As it can happen with products — think of floppy disks or the Walkman — the need for a wall paper cleaner soon faded. Coal furnaces were replaced by gas ones. Walls were no longer stained with soot. Kutol Wall Cleaner became obsolete. To say nothing of the new vinyl wallpapers that could be be washed with soap and water changing the game altogether.
Slowly, Kutol began to decline. After Cleo’s death, his son Joe took over the revival of the company, but couldn’t help it much. That was until Joe’s sister-in-law, Kay, spotted a magazine article about making Christmas ornaments with the mouldable wall cleaner.
She realised that the kids at her nursery also loved manipulating the dough and got the idea of selling the wall cleaner as a kids’ toy! It is that spark that still sells over 95 million cases in 75 countries around the world.
Encouraged by the popularity of the original single off-white compound, Joe developed the product in red, blue and yellow, and changed the company’s name to ‘Rainbow Crafts’ — because kids could make “any colour in the rainbow” by mixing the primary colours. Play Doh was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998 and shows no sign of becoming obsolete to this day.