Play Coal


One fourth of our basement was a coal bin. It had wooden walls from the floor to ceiling. When I was a little kid, I remember the huge coal trucks backing up to the edge of our house. Two guys would run a long trough through the basement window and they would shovel the coal onto the trough and down into the coal bin. Dust flew everywhere. We had to stay out of the basement for a day or two. Mom would have the windows and doors shut tight but the coal dust would rise through the cracks and joints and leave coal dust on the good dining room wallpaper. She would run to Kroger’s to buy some gooey messy stuff she would spread on the wallpaper and then peel off with all the coal dust attached. She said it worked like magic.

Then in the mid-‘50s, two things happened. Dad had a new natural gas furnace installed and our walls were now covered with the brand new vinyl-based, washable wallpaper. There wasn’t any need of the Kroger’s putty-like stuff made at the McVicker’s plant in Cincinnati, Ohio. Everybody figured they went out of business. They should have, they had a worthless product that nobody needed. Rumor has it that a sister-in-law in the family showed one of the McVicker nephews how much fun her nursery school kids were having with the stuff. The kids were shaping this stuff into Christmas ornaments.

play doh 2

This nephew, Joe McVicker, was hired to try to save the company from bankruptcy.
Later that year, young Mr. McVicker, took this pliable stuff to an educational convention for manufacturers of school supplies. Rainbow Crafts company wanted the product. They came up with a great name. It took a little tweaking in the chemistry: it was just vegetable oil, flour, water, salt and boric acid.
Some food coloring, good advertising and the next decade brought it back into my house. I didn’t have wallpaper to clean, but my kids wanted a great new toy for Christmas.

That toy has been named in the “Top 100” toys of the Century.  Good old Play-Doh.
Play Doh

About bakoheat

Writer/Musician
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2 Responses to Play Coal

  1. Susan Clarke-Romero says:

    What a great story. I love playdough, but never knew this about it.

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