Explore the unexpected origins of Play-Doh, a failed cleaning product turned iconic toy. Learn how mistakes fuel creativity at Theatretrain
November 21, 2023

How Play-Doh Proves That Mistakes Fuel Creative Brilliance

Uncover the fascinating tale of how a failed cleaning product in the 1950s birthed one of the most cherished children's toys – Play-Doh. In a cluttered garage, engineer Joe McVicker's attempt to create a wallpaper cleaner resulted in a colourful, squishy substance adored by kids. Discover how mistakes can be the catalyst for creativity and growth, a philosophy we embrace at Theatretrain. Ready to explore the transformative power of mistakes?

What if I told you that a cleaning product gone wrong sparked one of the most iconic toys of all time?

Once upon a time, in a cluttered garage in the late 1950s, there was an engineer named Joe McVicker. Joe was trying to create a putty that could be used to clean coal residue off wallpaper, but he had accidentally stumbled onto something much bigger.

You see, Joe had mixed up a batch of this putty and left it unused for a while. When he returned to it, he found that it was no longer good for cleaning walls. Instead, it had transformed into a pliable, colorful, and squishy substance that kids would come to adore. It was the birth of Play-Doh, but Joe didn’t realize it at first.

He tried to market it as a wallpaper cleaner, but that was a flop. He was about to give up on the idea when his sister-in-law, a schoolteacher, saw the potential in the substance. She brought it into her classroom, and the kids loved it. Soon enough, they were using it for all sorts of creative projects.

Sometimes, your big idea can come from what initially seems like a failure. Joe’s attempt to create a wallpaper cleaner might not have been successful, but it led to one of the most beloved children’s toys in history.

Play-Doh wasn’t always the vibrant, non-toxic modeling compound we know today. The early formula contained a hazardous chemical compound used for softening rubber. As you can imagine, it was not safe for children to play with.

Fortunately, Joe McVicker was not just an inventor; he was a problem solver. He worked diligently to reformulate Play-Doh to make it completely safe for kids. He replaced the harmful chemical with non-toxic ingredients, and voilà, the colorful, squishy, and perfectly safe Play-Doh was born.

You know, it’s easy to look at a mistake and think, “Well, that’s that – game over.” But what if I told you that’s not the case at all? Mistakes can be the spark that ignites creative growth, the kind that fuels progress and leads to remarkable inventions like Play-Doh.

At Theatretrain we give our students the space to make mistakes so they can grow.

“Ready to explore how embracing mistakes can unlock creative growth? Why not book a trial session today, just click the link below.


Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

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