Since this day 30 years ago, 800 million cans of Play-Doh -- the soft, flexible glop in fruit punch colors -- have been turned into strange, amorphous shapes and dollops and plops of the 3-year-old-and-up imagination.
A number of cans were transformed into the fantasies of our daughters, who were born just in time for Play-Doh. Because of constant vigilance, I believe it is incorrect to say they were early consumers -- though the Kenner toy company guarantees it to be clean and nontoxic.
It was compounded by chemist Joseph McVicker in Cincinnati in 1955. The legend says his sister-in-law, a nursery school teacher whose name has been lost to history, had complained that regular modeling clay was too stiff for small children.
McVicker developed a clean, nontoxic, easy to manipulate compound, originally only in off-white. In 1956, it was demonstrated for the first time in a toy department, at Woodward & Lothrop in Washington. In 1957, Dr. Tien Liu softened the consistency and added yellow, red and blue colors.
Nontoxic it may be -- at least our daughters are here today and are not noticeably mottled in Day-Glo colors. But "clean" in the guarantee certainly does not refer to the rugs of Play-Doh parents. At the time when ours became Play-Doh girls, we were living in embassy housing in Vienna, Austria. I mention this because it was government-issued carpeting, greige color, suitable as a background for embellishment with 3-D effects in brilliant colors.
As a mid-1960s mother, I was concerned about Creative Toys, Learning While Playing and Starting Early. Since I, like my father, was born wearing invisible mittens, I was determined they be like their father, who had made airplane models (and an actual glider) and played the piano as a child. I had played paper dolls, using my mother's 1920s etiquette book to get the titles right. I also played the radio and read everything from the Bobbsey Twins to the unexpurgated "Arabian Nights." I wanted something more for our children.
We'd bought the Play-Doh in the Munich PX, concerned that our children have all the possible-to-provide benefits of American children. They were deprived of television since our American television set didn't work on Austrian TV, which had a limited schedule anyway.
But they had Play-Doh.
Camille says she made Play-Doh bunnies, undifferentiated food and balls.
Claire says she's applied for a copyright on her childhood and refuses to be interviewed on the subject. Though she was willing to remember making fantasy figures with modeling clay "the time when we were trying to sell the house. Camille and I caught chicken pox from you, and everybody but Daddy was quarantined."
Their father says he remembers clearly what they made with Play-Doh: A mess.