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The 50 Year History of Play-Doh 182

tanagra writes "50 years ago U.S. Patent No. 3,167,440 was granted to Noah McVicker and Joseph McVicker for a "plastic modeling composition", (which was originally intended to be a wallpaper cleaner) now called Play-Doh. Little did they know that they had created the substance of childhood memories as well as many a childhood meal, unfortunately. Play-Doh persists as one of the most well known and popular children's "toys". As you attempt to clean your children's Play-Doh out of the carpet, the car, and the bathtub; take a look back with us at how it all got started."
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The 50 Year History of Play-Doh

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...home-made imitation playdoh?

    Mom did.

    It tasted salty.
  • 50 years? (Score:5, Funny)

    by teebob21 ( 947095 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:49PM (#15259522) Journal
    You know, if that stuff has really been around that long, the least they could do now is make it taste better.

    I'll stick with paste anyday.
    • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:10PM (#15259618) Homepage
      As a veritable connoisseur of things that should not be eaten, I vouch that Playdoh is pretty high up there for initial taste. It has a bit too much salt, however, and one can only eat so much of it before the after taste becomes perpetual. Most pastes suffer from this problem also. The big problem with pastes is texture: they are hard to chew and hard to get down.

      What I recommend most is sillyputty. Granted, is not all that flavorful, but you can consistently eat much more of it than either playdoh or paste and it generally doesn't leave a bad aftertaste.

      The new cornstarch based packing peanuts make an excellent side dish. You can wrap them in notebook paper to make a semi-palatable burrito. (Typing paper has bit too much chemical additives. And NEVER EVER EVER EVER eat receipt paper. It's just nasty.)

      • by teebob21 ( 947095 )
        Sadly, I must admit that you're right on corn based packing peanuts. They remind my of the puffy style Cheetos...sans cheese.
      • dude

        what the hell?
      • "they are hard to chew and hard to get down"

        I was going to make some witty sexual comment but I had like 4 or 5 window tabs open and forgot where I was. :(

  • by Rayston ( 454282 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:49PM (#15259525)
    or you have SO that does.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/05/03/playdoh_scent ed_colo.html [boingboing.net]

    cologne that smells like playdoh.

  • shapes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nodnarb1978 ( 725530 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:50PM (#15259529) Homepage
    I remember quickly getting bored with the default shapes thingee you made by mashing the dough through this big plastic doohickey.

    I remember eschewing this tool in favor of jury-rigging my own shapes.

    Twenty-five years later, I do the same thing with photoshop.

    • ... personally, though, I'm just enjoying the geek nostalgia.

      When I was a little man,
      Playdoh came in a little can
      I was Star Wars' biggest fan
      Now I'm stuck without a plan
      G. I. Joe was an Action Man
      Shaggy drove the mystery van
      Devo was my favourite band
      Take me back to my happy land!

      -- The Aquabats, Playdoh. Available NOW at your local P2P app!

  • by AlexanderDitto ( 972695 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:54PM (#15259545)
    1. Create Wallpaper Cleaner 2. ??? 3. Profit!
  • Just remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hobotron ( 891379 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:54PM (#15259546)


    In one of my college physics labs we used Play Doh for fine tuning our experiments with small mass additions. COLLEGE level physics class and without fail every student cant put the cap back on, and we all know how that dries out.
    So I guess what Im saying is some of us have forgotten basic 5 year old common curtesy, But Play Doh is awesome.

    Class Dismissed.

    • Re:Just remember... (Score:3, Informative)

      by teebob21 ( 947095 )
      Try kneading some baby oil into it if it isn't completely dried out; usually if the cap is left off only the top gets crusty.

      It also masks that distinctive smell...but if you're into that smell you can either use plain mineral oil or buy the PlayDoh cologne.
      • Just a year ago (I'm 27 now), I went out and bought PlayDoh for just the smell. I keep it at work and whenever I get stressed out, I pull out a can and sniff. The coworkers think I'm a bit odd, but what's new?

        Isn't that smell so very distinctive and reminiscant of childhood. I love that stuff! As a bonus, kneading it can be relaxing too.
    • The stuff at school would last for ages. I always hated when my play doh dried out and I try in vein to add something to bring it back to health.

    • Play-Doh Resistors (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dukiebbtwin ( 912572 )
      In my college physics lab we used play-doh as a resistor - figuring out how resistance changed with varying surface areas and the like. Also measured whether there were differences in resistance among different colors of play-doh. Needless to say the play-doh got pretty fried at the points where you connected it to the rest of the circuit. Of course the play-doh was used more for constructing artistic masterpieces than using it as a resistor!

      Now, why am I paying 40,000 bucks a year for this :x :x :x
  • by thesymbolicfrog ( 907527 ) <sloanes.k@g m a i l.com> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:54PM (#15259552)
    Sure, they may not have changed it much in 50 years, but just you wait. For the 50th anniversary they'll probably have new flavors: "Original", Barbeque, Zesty. Mmmmm.... Play'doh. :)

    (I have never eaten Play'doh. Play'doh is a registered trademark of Hasbro, the same large corporation that rules over D&D. This speculation written to excite the imaginations of Slashdot users as well as give me some Karma points for being funny.)
  • by ChestyLaRueGal ( 766941 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:56PM (#15259559) Journal
    I had a friend in college once pay me back with 10 cans of playdough. The only problem is that everyone wanted to play with my playdough. Damn roomates.
  • Recipes (Score:5, Informative)

    by zymano ( 581466 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @10:56PM (#15259560)
    Home Made 'Play - Doh'


            * 2 cups plain flour
            * 1 cup salt
            * 2 cups water
            * 4 teaspoons cream of tartar
            * 2 tablespoons cooking oil
            * food colouring


            * Mix ingredients in a pan and stir while heating gently
            * When dough is formed tip out and cool on grease proof paper
            * When cool kneed until smooth
            * Store in airtight container in a cool place

    Another recipe. Including Silly Putty recipe. Hmmm
    http://k2.kirtland.cc.mi.us/~balbachl/kidrecip.htm [cc.mi.us]
    • Re:Recipes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Atmchicago ( 555403 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:51PM (#15259771)

      You can also take a look at the patent itself at http://patft1.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm [uspto.gov]. Then search for patent US 3167440. Click the images button. They have a terrible viewing system, but it's there!

      • Re:Recipes (Score:2, Informative)

        by Peter Mork ( 951443 )

        Despite the patent, TFA claims, "It goes without saying that the top secret formula is a closely guarded secret." Color me confuselated*, you can't patent a secret. That's the whole point of a patent!

        *The author reserves the right to invent words to suit his mood.

    • Re:Recipes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Generic Guy ( 678542 )

      The basic problem with the homemade 'Play Doh' type modeling dough is that the food coloring tends to bleed into your hands, clothes, and usually anything it touches.

      Despite its tendency to dry into a hard, nearly impossible to remove mass in your carpet (or your kid's hair), the 'real' Play-Doh product seems to hang onto its color very well.

      • Despite its tendency to dry into a hard, nearly impossible to remove mass in your carpet (or your kid's hair)

        Or packed tightly into the back seat of a toy car, then left to dry. I'd say nearly half of me and my brother's toy vehicles were carrying a permanent load of dry, rock-hard home made playdough in the back.

    • There are recipies for no-cook play dough [teachnet.com]:
      * 3 cups flour
      * 3 cups salt
      * 3 tablespoons alum

      Combine ingredients and slowly add water, a little at a time. Mix well with spoon. As mixture thickens, continue mixing with your hands until it has the feel of clay. If it feels too dry, add more water. If it is too sticky, add equal parts of flour and salt.
  • I was just picking up hardened bits of play-doh off my kitchen floor. I was also trying to seperate the colors from the ball of white, red, and blue doh.

    Then, there's the ball of brown marbled doh that is hopelessly mixed from all the colors in the play-doh fun pack. Of course, the brown doh works perfectly with the play-doh ground beef grinder and burger press. Mmmmmmm. Now, where's the red doh so I can make some doh tomatoes using the tomatoe slice press...
  • I've always wondered what goes into making that distinctive smell.

    Better even than "that New Car Smell". And a lot cheaper.
    • "Some sort of petroleum distillate," apparently.

      Mmm... petroleum distillate. How comforting, and assuredly non-carcinogenic.
      • I posted another comment related to this above. I have a book called "The Big Book of Big Secrets" that says the secret ingredient that keeps play-doh from being tacky (and gives it that lovely smell) is Kerosene (or a similar petroleum distillate).

        They say that it's used so sparingly that it's OK if kids eat a little bit, but I find that hard to believe. I was always taught that ingesting Kerosene (even in small amounts)is a bad thing.

  • "So what is Play-Doh made of, you may ask? It goes without saying that the top secret formula is a closely guarded secret, so its exact ingredients and their proportions are not known to the average person."

    #1. If it was granted a US patent, then this information *must* be public, or else the patent could have been challenged.

    #2. The patent expired in the mid 70s. If a reformulation is a trade secret that's one thing, but saying that the composition of the product was secret in 1956 shows a poor understa
    • Re:misinformation (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:39PM (#15259716)
      The patent describes several alternatives, and is vague about additives, so I think it is fair to say that the formula isn't published. We know in general what it contains, but the specific formula used for the product aren't necessarily public. It's a long way from knowing the ingredients to knowing the "formula" -- which includes the actual ratios and specifications of ingredients and the process used to combine them.

      The ingredients noted in the patent (simplified for readability)
        - wheat flour
        - water
        - salt
        - deodorized kerosene
        - borax
        - an alum, such as aluminum sulfate

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:12PM (#15259627) Homepage Journal
    I'm sick and tired of all those slashdot articles that extol the virtues of Legos in a child's intellectual development, and how it trained generations of engineers, architects and programmers to think logically, discretely, and modularly.

    Finally, we give praise to the medium that created all of us Liberal Arts majors: Play-Doh. Folks, it doesn't get any fuzzier than this stuff. There is no formula, design, or strategy. Anything you make can be anything you want; a bird is a blob is a bunny. Anything goes -- nobody can say you are wrong. Take your masterpiece and pinch it here and there and its totally different. What an exercise in hermeneutical phenomology! It's everything yet nothing at once! Take all the colors, mix them together, and you get a wonderful, muddied brown. Who can argue with that?
  • The kid loves the stuff, and it's like $2 for a couple of cans. The "Fun Factory" is still under $5 (and includes a can or two). Great stuff.
  • by ShyGuy91284 ( 701108 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:38PM (#15259713)
    It seems like such an odd idea...... I'm curious if it actually works...
  • by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:46PM (#15259744)
    I saw this show on Discovery about the rare math genius who was also NOT otherwise mentally handicapped. He could calculate Pi to 40,000 decimals or something. He used play-doh to describe how he visualized different numbers. For instance, 637 was a green saddle-shaped thing. (Or whatever, I don't remember.)

    He got that way after suffering (as a young child) a very specific brain injury as a result of a disease. No mention of any radioactive poisonous spiders, however.

  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @11:50PM (#15259766)
    ...snakes and twigs'n'berries.
  • The patent, like all patents, is published online. Go to: http://patft1.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm [uspto.gov] And search for patent 3,167,440. It's four pages long. The ingredients are listed, though the exact proportions are not (several examples are given). Warning: Firefox made me install QuickTime to view the scanned images of the patent.
  • Get your facts right (Score:3, Informative)

    by D H NG ( 779318 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @12:09AM (#15259862)
    The McVickers invented it in 1956 [wikipedia.org]. Patent 3,167,440 was granted on January 26, 1965 [uspto.gov].
  • 'Play Doh', pff. We all know that the Geek Community comes up with MUCH better names for products. I nominate "Play Gnoh".

    Or perhaps 'The PIMP' (Plastic Immersive Modeling Product)

    Or "PDNC" (Play Doh's Not Clay)

    Clearly they needed someone like RMS back in the 50s to help them out.

  • by localman ( 111171 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @02:37AM (#15260399) Homepage
    I'm a USian, but my Dad grew up in the UK. He got me plasticine [wikipedia.org] insted of Play-doh growing up, and when I'd go to a friend's house and try to work with Play-doh, I just found it frustrating! Aside from drying out, you can't make sufficient detail because it's too crumbly.

    Admittedly you can't dry plasticine at all, so if you want something permanent you're out of luck. But just for pure creativity, I got to give props to plasticine. And it's also cool because it led me into animation, and film.

  • You just got to love stuff like this:

    So what is Play-Doh made of, you may ask? It goes without saying that the top secret formula is a closely guarded secret

    Well, if it was patented, then by definition it's not at all a secret. It's about as public as it can get.

    Furthermore, it sounds highly unlikely that a substance that ends up in infants mouths on a regular basis has any ingredients that are secret.

    Yeah, okay, I'm nitpickin', still, sounds like a press release to me.
    • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @08:06AM (#15261148) Homepage Journal
      As others have pointed out, the ingredients may be public, but the ratio is still secret, etc.

      Which points out yet another flaw with the current patent system - the whole intent of patents was to encourage people to make their inventions known, so that once they expire the knowledge becomes public domain. Here, with humble little play-doh, we have an example of that intent not working, being evaded - the patent was granted, and has expired, yet nobody knows the formula... perfect Playdoh making has NOT become something anyone can do, and the stuff has not become a generic commodity as patent law intended. Playdoh got a patent without really truly revealing their invention, and now still gets to maintain its secret.

      Play-doh got a 20 year free ride, essentially having ripped off the public.

      • It is not a generic commodity because it is so damn cheap. There are plenty of homebrew recipes for making play dough that work just as well and are even edible, though the salt concetration is a bit high.
  • You can also use it to take Mary Worth's smug sense of self-satisfaction down a peg ;)
  • When I was young and poor, my Mother made home made play-doh out of flour, salt and food colouring (and probably some other ingredients I've forgotten....), it actually worked better than the real play-doh as well. Unless you got it wet :)

    Anyway, I spent 4 hours yesterday making play-doh animals with my own children. It doesn't go beep, it doesn't required batteries and they'll probably be doing the same thing when they have kids of there own just like me. I can't wait until they're both old enough for l
  • And now, let us pause for a moment to be thankful playdoh was patented, rather than copyrighted. That patent has been expired for decades. Had copyright applied to playdoh, the stuff would still be proprietary.
  • They were going to take the "ugh" out of "dough", but that left them with "Play Do ", which most of the focus group pronounced "play doo". Ironically, the group subjects didn't mind playing with "play doo" until they brought out the "play doo pumper"...
  • I'm surprised nobody has mentioned one of the best uses for Play-Doh, the game Claydonia from Dragon magazine. Details:
    http://www.lclark.edu/~gamesoc/games/claydonia.htm l [lclark.edu]

    In a recent episode of "How It's Made" on the Science channel they showed how they make a Play-Doh like product called Tutti-Frutti. This clay has various scents added to so it can smell like candy or fruit. It is made by:
    http://www.bojeux.com/ANG/Products/section/tutti.h tml [bojeux.com]

    They don't say what it tastes like though.
  • All the big kids are playing with polymer clay [sculpey.com] now.
  • You can now buy Play-Doh Cologne [demeterfragrance.com] I hear it's Micheal Jackson's favorite fragrance...

Loose bits sink chips.