HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS
Europe was the birthplace of the “modern” crayon, a man-made cylinder that resembled contemporary sticks. The first such crayons are purported to have consisted of a mixture of charcoal and oil. Later, powdered pigments of various hues replaced the charcoal. It was subsequently discovered that substituting wax for the oil in the mixture made the resulting sticks sturdier and easier to handle.
While these discoveries were being made in Europe, the foundation was being laid in the United States for a company that would turn the crayon into its best-known product; one that would reach the households of generations of children throughout the world.
In 1864, Joseph W. Binney founded the Peekskill Chemical Company in Peekskill, N.Y. This company was responsible for products in the black and red color range, such as lampblack, charcoal and a paint containing red iron oxide which was often used to coat the barns dotting America’s rural landscape.
Peekskill Chemical was also instrumental in changing the look of America’s highways. The first automobile tires were actually white because of the zinc oxide in the rubber compound. One rather daring tire manufacturer decided to tint his new tire silver gray to distinguish it from the other tires of the day. While experimenting with different compounds, the Peekskill chemists discovered that darker tires not only looked different but were more durable than the others. In fact, the addition of carbon black was found to increase tread life four or five times.
Binney was beginning to realize the service he and his company could perform through knowledge and correct application of pigments and related chemical compounds. He instructed his field sales force to determine the needs of their customers so that the laboratory specialists could investigate ways to fill these needs.
This attitude was maintained as the company changed hands around 1885. Joseph’s son, Edwin Binney, and nephew, C. Harold Smith, then formed the partnership of Binney & Smith. The cousins expanded the company’s product line to include shoe polish and printing ink.
In 1900, the company purchased a stone mill in Easton, PA, near many of the region’s slate quarries. Not long after, they began producing slate pencils.
It was the slate pencil that introduced Binney & Smith to the educational market. And by listening and responding to teachers’ requests for better materials, the fledging company eased its way into the children’s art field.
“The chalk we’re using crumbles easily and it’s too dusty!” came the uniform cry. Binney & Smith’s chemists went to work, and An-Du-Septic Dustless Chalk, made by an extrusion process to “weight” dust particles, came into being.
“The crayons we’re using are terrible! The ones imported from Europe are of better quality, but they’re far too expensive for our school’s budget,” lamented schoolteachers who worked out of one-room schoolhouses. Coincidentally, the Binney & Smith lab had just developed a new wax crayon to be used to mark crates and barrels. This particular crayon was loaded with carbon black. The researchers were confident that the pigment and wax mixing techniques they had developed could be adapted to a variety of colors.
The chemists were correct, but the manufacture of colored crayons for children involved special considerations. Foremost was the fact that most of the pigments available at the time were toxic. Obviously, such components were not acceptable for the new product since it was possible that the crayons would, at times, be chewed or even digested. Therefore, in some cases, synthetic, non-toxic pigments had to be developed to replace organic colors.
Special training and a blend of strength and gentleness were required to pull the slim cylinders from their molds. Labels were rolled on by hand, another time-consuming process. But research and painstaking labor paid off. In 1903, a new brand of crayons with superior working qualities was introduced to U.S. consumers.
Edwin’s wife, Alice Stead Binney, took particular interest in the new product. A former schoolteacher, Mrs. Binney was able to recognize the significance of the availability of colored crayons in terms of child development. For the first time, an assortment of colors was offered to eager young hands at a price most people could afford. Eight different colors retailed for about 5 cents in 1903.
The brand name “Crayola” was, in fact, the invention of Mrs. Binney. Crayola represents the joining of the French word “craie,” meaning chalk or stick of color, and “ola,” from oleaginous (oily). The name would soon become synonymous with crayon to the point where today, Binney & Smith takes special care to guard the trademark to prevent it from becoming just another generic term.
This is not an easy task. Generations of America’s children have grown up with Crayola crayons. To many, the crayon is a symbol of childhood, of hours spent coloring, creating, exploring a rainbow of possibilities.
In order to make more colors available to more children, Binney & Smith slowly expanded its range of colors and streamlined its production methods. Crayola crayons are now available in a total of 120 colors in a dazzling array of shades including 19 blues, 20 greens, 23 reds, 8 yellows, 16 purples, 14 oranges, 11 browns,
2 grays, 1 silver, 1 white, 2 blacks, 1 gold and 2 coppers. Today, nearly three billion Crayola crayons are produced each year.
Outside of the crayon production area, heated tanks store paraffin wax in a liquid state. This heated wax is pumped directly into a mixing vat in which it is mixed with a predetermined amount of powdered pigment. The Crayola crayons of today are made by essentially the same formula as that of the original crayons made in 1903. Improvements and minor adjustments have, of course, taken place over the past 90 years, but the crayon formula is as guarded today as it was then.
The wax is heated and poured from a double spouted bucket onto the molding table. Each mold forms 2,400 crayons. As the wax-pigment blend settles into the cylindrical molds, it is cooled by water. The nature of each color’s pigments also determines how long the crayon will take to cool, anywhere from four to seven minutes. At that point, the crayons are hydraulically ejected from their molds.
The mold operator then empties the crayons from their rack onto a worktable, where the first quality control check is made. Any crayons with broken tips, chipped butt ends or inconsistent color are returned to the mixing vat to be melted and remolded.
After being molded, crayons are placed in an automated labeling machine that wraps and glues on the labels. This process is quite a bit faster than the hand labeling method that was used in the early and mid-1900s. From here, the crayons are fed into packing machines that collate the colors into different assortments for retail stores nationwide.
If all the regular size Crayola crayons made in one year were laid end to end on the Equator . . . you’re right, they would melt! But those melted bands of color would circle the Earth six times.
Whoever first described Binney & Smith Inc. as “a rainbow encircling the globe” certainly did not mean to be so literal. However, Crayola crayons are found throughout the world, making the artistic explorations of children--and some adult artists--truly colorful experiences.