We know that you commemorated National Play-Doh Day on September 16 — I mean, who doesn’t? — but we might not circle that day on the calendar every year if Play-Doh had always been used the way its inventor intended.
In 1933, a Cincinnati company called Kutol Products scored a big contract making a wallpaper cleaner for the Kroger supermarket chain. Wallpaper was a big thing in home decor and — fortunately for Kutol — so was using coal for heat, which left that wallpaper looking like Santa’s inseams on Christmas morning.
But by the mid-1950s, coal was being phased out in favor of gas and oil heating systems. Things were looking grim for Kutol, because most of their inventory (and annual income) was based on people having nasty-ass wallpaper. Fortunately for Kutol exec Joe McVicker, his sister-in-law came up with an even better idea.
According to Cincinnati.com, Kay Zufall, a nursery school teacher, discovered that the kids in her classes really liked using Kutol’s cleaning putty in their art projects, and it was easier to work with than standard modeling clay. In 1956, the product was repackaged under the name Kutol’s Rainbow Modeling Compound, and sold by the gallon to schools in Cincinnati. (Kay also told McVicker that the “Rainbow” name sucked, and she suggested Play-Doh instead.)
“It’s a tale of technological obsolescence with a happy ending,” said a spokesman for the Strong National Museum of Play to Smithsonian Magazine. “Fortunately, the sister-in-law realized it would make a better toy than a cleaning product. That turned the company’s fortunes around.”
The division of Kutol that made Play-Doh was sold to General Mills, and then eventually bought by Hasbro, which still owns it. And let’s be honest: there’s no way anybody would give a shit about National Wallpaper Cleaner Day.
A version of this story appeared on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink.