William Harbutt resigned his position as headmaster of the Bath School of Art because his forward-thinking ideas were always deemed too radical by his seniors.
He set up his own art school, specialising in sculpture, where he noticed many of his students had difficulty keeping their clay moist enough to work.
He experimented with various combinations of clay, oil and water, mixing them in a bathtub in the basement of a house belonging to an old soldier friend of his.
After squeezing it out through a fine dye plate, Harbutt rolled the heavy grey substance out flat with a garden roller and left it to dry and mature for several weeks.
His own children were the first to enjoy playing with the substance he called Plasticine modelling clay, and he soon realised it had good marketing potential.
Plasticine was first made commercially in May 1900 in an old flour mill at Bathampton, near Bath, with the first packs containing a mixture of red, blue and yellow strips of modelling clay. The Harbutt company produced Plasticine in Bathampton until 1983, when production was moved to Thailand.
Accompanied by his daughter Olive, Harbutt toured Britain promoting his new product and distributing posters and instruction booklets backed by the catchy slogan, “Modelling made clean and easy”.
Plasticine was a huge success and, in 1906, Harbutt’s chief studio modeller, Albert Blanchard, produced a fine bas-relief plaque of its founder in a bathtub in the modelling clay Harbutt invented.
William Harbutt died in 1921 at the age of 77.
Bluebird Toys acquired Plasticine through its purchase of Peter Pan, Harbutt’s parent company. In 1998, Mattel bought Bluebird and the brand was sold to Humbrol Ltd, famous for its model paints and owner of the Airfix model kit brand.
Flair Leisure licensed the brand from Humbrol in 2005 and relaunched Plasticine. It acquired the brand outright when Humbrol went into administration a year later.