Long before most of us were entrusted with things like paint and permanent markers, those wishing to explore their artistic talents were limited to the simple, non-toxic pleasures of crayons. And there is simply no other brand that ever came close to capturing this market like Crayola crayons. With their rainbow of vivid colors, and an intoxicating smell that still lingers in the minds of many, Crayola is now synonymous with the crayon and, as such, accompanied just about all of us through our pre-adolescent creative endeavors. Today, we take a look back at one of the most iconic drawing tools ever to land in a child’s hand.
Although coloring goes back thousands of years, the history of Crayola Crayons stops in 1885, when the Peekskill Chemical Company was renamed Binney & Smith after cousins and new co-owners Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith. Although producing the pigment that made barns red and tires black, Binney and Smith set their sights on the educational domain with their An-Du-Septic brand of dustless chalk (the product would become so famous that it would win them a teacher’s gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair). It was while promoting this and other fine products across the country that the entrepreneurs discovered that most school teachers imported expensive and ungainly wax crayons from Europe. Binney and Smith realized that they had unwittingly created the solution to this dilemma already when they had developed a colored stick for marking up crates and boxes.
Armed with the wherewithal and the purpose, Binney and Smith returned to the factory and the drawing board, creating a non-toxic version of their coloring stick. Edwin’s wife, Alice, harmonized two French words to give the product its name, Crayolas, or “oily chalk.” In 1903, nearly twenty years after starting their company, Binney and Smith released eight crayons (Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, Red, Violet, and Yellow) in a green and yellow box that would become an American classroom fixture for the next hundred years and counting. Available for a nickel, Crayola Crayons appealed by design to multiple users with logos like “unequaled for outdoor sketching” and “good in any climate, certified non-toxic.”