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I invented Play Doh (kinda, sorta, maybe)

By James Woolums
grew up in a small Indiana town and when I was around 10 years old we had two dogs who took multiplication seriously and multiplied into 12 dogs. My job was to feed, water, and keep their living quarters clean, which I managed to put off until a small job became a crisis management situation.

One warm summer day, I had put off my task as long as I could. So with shovel in hand and a five gallon bucket I proceeded to scoop. A few minutes later I had over half a bucket full of recycled dog food.

Two things my dogs could do well was to multiply and recycle, I looked into the bucket and decided to get creative. Surely there has to be some use for this dog food by product?

I sat down to give this some thought and decided to add some water. This made it a little runny. Next I added sand for texture.

As I kept mixing, adding, and stirring I soon reached the right consistency and, to my surprise, the product had increased from 1/2 of a 5 gallon bucket to 3/4.

I knew that I needed a test lab facility like UL Labs but I had never heard of them at the time. Clearly a future marketing dilemma if you can't get a proper endorsement.

Suddenly I saw my neighbor Wally come out of his back door to play. As he set up his play area in his sand box by his fence, I decided that, although it may not be proper, this six-year-old was all I had to get an endorsement with.

"Hey Wally you want some clay to play with?"

I hadn't gotten as far as a name for my product yet, and all we had back then was clay, so I handed the bucket over the fence and Wally dug right in.

He modeled and he built like there was no tomorrow. The only problem I saw was that unlike clay, my product had a tendency to stick to your hands. Wally wasn't concerned. He simply compensated by wiping the excess off on his shirt and pants.

After a half hour of happy building the laws of nature caught up with him. He had to go to the bath room, he stood up, once again wiped his hands on his clothes, and went into his house.

As I waited eagerly beside the fence for his return and a possible product endorsement, I heard the most blood-curdling scream I had ever heard in my life.

Something must have happened to his mother.

Then another scream came out of the house and I retreated to my back porch. I thought someone might need help but we didn't have 911 in those days, so I waited to see what would happen next.

Wally never came back out that day. I saw his mother later washing down the back screen door and carrying a bag to the garbage can. I assumed there was no real problem at his house and the screams were unjustified.

That evening I observed his father in his back yard examining the 5 gallon bucket and its contents. He also seemed interested in the works of art Wally had created.

Being a cautious man ( he was a sewing-machine salesman), I saw him poke the bucket with a very long stick.Next, with shovel in hand, he proceeded to scoop up all of Wally's creations and deposit them back into the bucket.

This concerned me as the product was a prototype and I wasn't sure if it could be used again. Would it dry up if not properly concealed in a container? And I wondered about packaging.

Then his father starting to dig a hole next to his garage. It took a while as he dug down fairly deep. Then he placed the bucket in the hole and began filling it in, completely burying my invention.

All my hopes of creating Play Doh were buried that day along with my product.

Every so often I think of it buried in their back yard waiting to be found by another child someday who will also appreciate it. You know something? Now that I think about it this could have led into the movie Jumanji.

Copyright © 2004 James Woolums

James Woolums was born in 1944. He says, "Although born in Indianapolis we resided in Shelby County approx 26 miles southeast of Indianapolis. My mother was a nurse and after my father passed away when I was four years old. She elected to raise me as a single parent which was pretty much unheard of in the early '50s.

Nurses tend to be somewhat eccentric at times and my mother was in the lead as some of my stories reflect.

We moved to Arizona when I was 13 years old, but what I refer to as my fun years were all in Indiana, where kids in the '50s were allowed to play and roam free without fear as long as they were home for supper, and you never had to lock your doors.

You could experience the four seasons, do all the fun stuff: play, swim, and fish in the summer; rake leaves and burn them next to the curb in the fall; build snowmen in the winter; and fly kites in the spring,

Today's kids don't know what they missed.

I had a basic baby-boomer life. I grew up reluctantly, went into the service after high school, came home, plugged into the job market, got married, had kids, took college courses, got divorced, remarried, had kids, had grandkids, presently trying to live happily ever after.

Main interests today: Genealogy, Woodwork ( have wood shop in the garage), also listed in a book entitled Alamo Almanac and Lists, as Alamo artist and diorama builder.