A Repurposed Cleaner Becomes a Creativity Catalyst

Noah McVicker had a problem. He owned a soap products company that had seen a decline in one of its signature products. Kroger stores had asked him to produce a product that would remove coal soot from wallpaper. The product he developed was a flexible putty ball that could be pressed against the wallpaper and remove the soot without damage to the wallpaper.

But following World War II, natural gas was replacing coal as a heating fuel for homes. Soot was no longer a problem. Also, vinyl wallpaper could be sponge cleaned. Noah’s nephew, Joe McVicker, was brought in to save the company from bankruptcy.

Joe’s sister-in-law was a school teacher whose students enjoyed making art projects out of the wallpaper putty that Noah was producing. That gave Joe an idea to repurpose the putty. He decided to attend an education convention for school supplies to see whether the putty would be something schools might use.

Soon, major department stores, as well as schools began buying the product. Advertisements on children’s TV shows also led to increased sales. The McVicker’s offered Captain Kangaroo 2% of sales, if he featured the product once a week on his show. He loved it so much, he used it 3 times a week. Within two years, sales of the putty were equivalent to $88 million in 2022 dollars.

A new company, Rainbow Crafts, was formed to feature the putty. The McVickers sold the patent rights to the putty, but the original name for the putty remains – Play-Doh.

Play-Doh has long been a favorite of creative people and now they can buy a Play-Doh fragrance to stimulate their creativity. Hasbro, the current owner of Play-Doh, has even filed to trademark the scent.

Play-Doh, although the simplest of toys, has kept up with the 4times by introducing an app that allows children to animate the creations they make.

A number of beginnings come from repurposing existing products. Art, jewelry, wood objects, furniture, and others are examples. Repurposing is also environmentally friendly. To test out your creativity, take something you had planned to throw away, and imagine another purpose for it.

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            “Kindergarten kids are like little tubs of Play-Doh. Open up the lids, add a pinch of imagination, and just watch what they become.” – Anonymous

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