I'm convinced that the real invention of Play Dough is shrouded in mystery: that some Dr. Frankenstein-like scientist was slaving away in his lab in the wee hours of the morning, trying to figure out how to create this magical compound that has captured the imagination's of children for the last 50 years or so. And I'm equally convinced that the concept of Play Dough was sitting right in front our eyes for a lot longer.
The real origins of Play Dough? Maybe it was a pizzeria or a bakery. Anywhere where some kind-hearted baker gave a kid a mound of bread dough and then told the child to beat it. I can imagine that someone, somewhere saw a child kneading bread dough and though, "I think I'm on to something here...."
Play Dough is in fact similar to bread dough, but smells a heck of a lot better. The recipe for making play dough is a closely guarded secret - kind of like the Colonel's recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it's assumed that Play Dough is a mixture of wheat flour and soap flakes, water and salt, plus other non-toxic ingredients like food coloring, aroma, and whatever it is that makes Play Dough feel so smooth in your hands yet gets hard if left out of its container.
The non-toxic part is important because I'm sure a case could be made for the amount of play dough that is ingested every year. Estimates of Play Dough sales hover around 700 million cans of the stuff, and more than a fair share of that has wound up in the mouths of children who skipped breakfast.
Back in 1956 when Play Dough was invented, I'm the creators of this compound were just looking to find the "next big thing". Actually, Play Dough was an accident waiting to happen. It was originally created as a product to clean wallpaper. And how the heck it made the leap from wallpaper cleaner to child's toy is one for the history books. Play-Dough came hot on the heels of the Hula Hoop. And we all know how much of a hit that was. The Hula Hoop -- for all its craziness - was just a fad though. Within 10 years it was yesterday's news. But Play Dough is still going strong. There are now Play Dough molds that make different shapes and Play Dough processors that make spaghetti Play Dough, and the Play Dough deluxe set that has more colors than a box of crayons. At the end of the day though, the basic 5-container set of Play Dough has proved to be the most durable seller.
American toy manufacturer Hasbro has reaped the profits of Play Dough, but like any good idea there are several other "wanna-be's". Consumers can find "Jiffy Dough" and "Cool Dough" and "Magic Dough" and it's all about the same but they just don't have the built in nostalgia factor of Play Dough.
The original recipe for Play Dough may be kept under lock and key, but that hasn't stopped the average inventor from creating his own. Making play Dough isn't that difficult apparently. Most home made recipes seem to contain 4 cups of flour, one cup of salt, 4 cups of water, 4 tablespoons of oil, and a half cup of either alum or tarter. This basic recipe gives you a generic plain looking glop of dough. If you add food coloring to the mixture it will liven things up a bit.
Well it's easy to see why so much of this stuff has been consumed over the last 60 years or so - its tastes pretty darn good. A little salty perhaps but not bad if you put it on a cracker. But it's a lot more fun if you use it to make things with!