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(Expert Feature) A Surprising Business Lesson From The Origin Of Play-Doh

business lessons from Play-Doh

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Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”

– H Jackson Brown Jr


The Surprising Origin of Play-Doh

I am sure you’ve heard of the kids clay-like substance called “Play-Doh”.

But you might not have heard how it came to be the well-known toy we all know and remember fondly.

Believe it or not, it didn’t originally have anything to do with kids and fun.

It actually was manufactured as a cleaning substance for wallpaper.

From what I hear, the dough-like substance was rolled against wallpaper to remove built-up soot and dirt.


The Teacher and the New Idea

But in 1955 it made the shift from a wallpaper cleaning product to a kids joy-maker.


Well, after World War II the wallpaper market was changing.

The demand for a cleaning substance was decreasing because peoples’ heating systems were more efficient and vinyl wallpaper was easier to clean.

One day its inventor, Joseph McVicker, heard a friend who was a teacher complaining about how difficult it was to work with her students and the clay they used in the classroom back then.

When McVicker heard that, on a whim, he gave her a supply of the wallpaper cleaner to use with the kids in her class.

She used it, the kids loved it, and McVicker realized he was on to something.

His next move was a genius one.


Tested by Thousands of Cincinnati Kids

He decided to supply the schools in the Cincinnati area with his substance, which basically got his “play dough” into the hands of thousands of young product testers.

You can guess what happened next.

News of this amazing squishy goop spread from kid to kid and parent to parent.

McVicker decided to keep the momentum going.

He did that by demonstrating and selling the item in the toy department of a store called Woodward & Lothrop Department Store that was located in Washington, D.C.

At this point, McVicker realized this could be a big thing.

Because of this, he formed Rainbow Crafts to manufacture what he began to call Play-Doh.

He later sold his company and all the rights to Play-Doh  to General Mills.

This made him a millionaire before the age of 30.


Business Lessons From Play-Doh

What is the lesson you can learn from this?

Always be open to new markets and new uses for your products and services.

The current ways your products and services are being used might not be the most profitable.

The current type of customers you sell to might not be the only ones, or the best ones, for you to sell to.


3 Ways You Can Uncover New Opportunities And New Customers

1. Ask your customers how they actually use your product or service.

2. List all of the end results that your product or service provides.

3. Look for customer groups that you currently don’t target who have want those same end results.

Just do me a favor. 

Don’t wait till the current demand for your products or services lessens.

Begin the search now.

That way if the demand lessens, you’ll be ready.

And if it doesn’t, you’ll increase your profits and have a stronger business that can better serve your current and future customers.


What ways have you discovered new opportunities and new customers to serve?

Let us know in the comments below.

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About Scott Aughtmon (1864 Articles)
I’m author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. I am also a regular contributor to and I am the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. I’m a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. I’ve been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. ===> If you would like to see ways that we could work together, then please click here to learn more.

2 Comments on (Expert Feature) A Surprising Business Lesson From The Origin Of Play-Doh

  1. GREAT post Scott! (And not just because I loved play-doh when I was a kid. 🙂

    I see this all the time with small business owners, that they are so married to a product/service idea they MUST sell that they completely miss they boat of what their customers want to buy from them.

    Thanks for the great tips on 3 ways you can uncover new opportunities and new customers! These are practical suggestions that anyone can follow.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sydni! I loved Play-Doh as a kid too. I never knew its backstory though. I am so glad Joseph McVicker had an open mind to a new market and a new way for his product to be used. I hope I am always that open and aware! 🙂

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