One of the things I miss most about being a kid is sinking my eager, little hands into a colorful, gushy mound of Play-Doh. Nowadays, if I stick my hand into a mound of colorful, gushy goop, they ask me to leave Sephora.
But when I was a kid, I could play with Play-Doh for hours. And Play-Doh’s play potential was limitless. You could roll it into a ball. You could smush it into a pancake. You could get it tangled in your hair and make your grandma exclaim, “For the love of God, why, Jess, why?!”
Play-Doh was this giant, malleable, room-temperature pile of fun. And we all know nothing says beloved child’s toy like “room-temperature pile.”
Play-Doh got its start as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s. But its creators quickly realized Play-Doh’s cheap playtime possibilities. The product was tweaked to make it less chemically harsh, and re-introduced as a crafting toy in Cincinnati schools in the 1950s.
Although the actual Play-Doh formula is a closely held secret, like Coco-Cola or Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscience, the “dough you can play with” is basically flour, water, salt, borax, and mineral oil. And what sounds more fun than borax?
Since it’s debut in 1956, over 950 million pounds of Play-Doh have been squished, squashed, and smeared into kids’ hair. But playing with Play-Doh didn’t just involve your hands and your imagination. It also involved Play-Doh playsets. Nowadays most of the playsets let you turn your Play-Doh into food items like cupcakes and spaghetti.
But back when I was a kid in the 1970s, Play-Doh playsets were a little less “cutesy kitchen fun,” and a little more “psychologically damaging danger zone.”
Allow me to present some of my favorites. First up is “All My Babies.”
Because what young girl doesn’t want to spend hours Frankenstein-ing little globs of “maybe I should have gone to college first” doh-babies. Like the patriarchy-celebrating box says, “Make lots of babies for a cradle full of fun!”
Next up is “Doctor Drill ’n Fill.”
That’s right, kids. “Put the teeth in one by one — playing dentist is lots of fun!” Honestly, I think Kenner missed a golden opportunity by not creating a Play-Doh mammogram playset to teach young girls about the need for future breast care. They could have called it “Smash and Flash!” Call me, Play-Doh.
My next favorite Play-Doh playset was the “Pump ‘n Play.”
Honestly, “pump ‘n play” is still one of my favorite activities.
But maybe the best Play-Doh toy was the “Funny Pumper.”
As the box says, you could “fill it, pump it, pump, it, pump it!” I never realized how much pumping was involved as a child in the 1970s. And just look at those plastic molds!
They’re not nightmare-inducing at all.
I really do miss the ‘70s. But I did see that Play-Doh just released a new “Play-Doh Poop Troop” playset.
Which means that Play-Doh might be getting back into the “questionable toy choices” business. And for that, I salute them.