Vintage 1950s Toys
Play-Doh began when Kutol Products, a Cincinnati based soap company, was about to go under in the late 1920s. Cleo McVicker was tasked with selling off the company’s remaining assets, which at the time comprised mainly of powdered hand soap.
In 1933 Cleo was at a meeting with Kroger grocery store representatives when they asked him if he made wallpaper cleaner. (This was before vinyl wallpaper.)
In a bold stroke, Cleo told them he could make the wallpaper cleaner for them (even though no-one at Kutol Products knew how). Kroger subsequently ordered 15,000 cases of wallpaper cleaner. Sales bloomed. After WWII, sales began to dwindle with sooty coal heaters slowly being replaced by oil and gas furnaces.
The product was reworked and marketed to Cincinnati schools. In 1954 Kay Zufall, the unsung hero of Play-Doh history and the sister-in-law to Joe McVicker, had a nursery school and needed cheap materials to have her kids make Christmas decorations. In the process of searching for said cheap decoration materials, she read in a magazine that you could use wallpaper cleaner for this task. Knowing the trouble her brother-in-law’s company was in, she went out and bought a bunch of Kutol’s wallpaper cleaner, to see if it would work for this application.
Joe McVicker managed to talk his way into an audience with Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo. McVicker explained to him that Kutol Products had no money for a national advertising campaign nor money to have the product put on the show. However, if Keeshan would agree to use the product once a week on Captain Kangaroo, they’d give the Captain Kangaroo production company 2% of the sales generated, so long as he continued to show it. The Captain agreed and Play-Doh quickly became a national hit, even appearing on other children’s shows such as Ding Dong School and Romper Room. In 1958 Play-Doh's sales reached nearly $3 million.