On Easter Sunday, my 6-year-old step-granddaughter searched our backyard for plastic Easter eggs and assorted treasures. One of the items she found was a box of Crayola crayons.
Apparently, 99 percent of the today’s households in the U.S. recognize the Crayola brand. However, how much do people know about that company?
Apparently, Europe was the birthplace of the modern crayon. It was a manmade cylinder that looked like a stick. The first ones consisted of a mixture of charcoal and oil. Later, powdered, colored pigments replaced the charcoal. When the oil was replaced with wax, the ‘sticks’ were sturdier and easier to handle.
In 1864, an immigrant from England named Joseph W. Binnery founded the Peekskill Chemical Works in Peekskill, N.Y. When he retired in 1881, his son, Edwin, and Edwin’s cousin, C. Harold Smith, took over the company and renamed it the Binnery and Smith Company. Their early products included inks, dyes, and shipping room supplies.
Later, the company made ‘carbon black,’ which was used in products like printing ink, paints, rubber boots, stove polish, carbon paper, and typewriter ribbons.
In 1900, the company moved to Easton, Pa., to be close to the source of slate used in their pencil manufacturing.
On July 10, 1903, the first Crayola crayon was made and marketed. There were eight crayons in a box, and they were sold door-to-door for one nickel. The colors were black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green.
Over the years, over 700 colors were made available, but sometimes the colors were simply renamed. Today, blue crayons are the most popular color among consumers.
Edwin’s wife, Alice, who had been a school teacher in the Bronx, came up with the product’s name by combining the French word, ‘craie,’ which means chalk, and ‘ola,’ which means oily.
The word ‘crayon’ can be traced to 1644 and came from the French word, ‘craie,’ meaning chalk, and the Latin word, ‘creta,’ which means earth.
Standard Crayola crayons, made basically of paraffin and pigments, come in a variety of box sizes. The company also makes five-inch-long, jumbo crayons that are perfect for ‘artistic beginners’ and children with special needs.
Crayola currently makes over 100 different types of crayons, including ones that sparkle with glitter, glow in the dark, smell like flowers, change colors, and easily wash off walls and other surfaces.
With its headquarters still in Easton, the company ‘rolled out’ its 100 billionth crayon there in 1996. Most of its crayons are made in the U.S., with production amounting to three billion crayons a year.
In 1984, Crayola became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards. In 2007, officials changed the company’s name from Binney & Smith to Crayola.
Crayola crayons are advertised as non-toxic, which is great news for small children who might be tempted to put crayons in their mouths or even taste-test them.
Nowadays, an antique box full of vintage Crayola crayons can be worth up to $500. I assume that means they’re in mint condition; unused, or at least with no teeth marks.
Leanne Lippincott-Wuerthele, a native of Milton, who has lived in Minnesota and Iowa, has been writing Sunny Side Up for about 40 years. A graduate of Milton Union High School and Milton College, she has written four books. She has two children, three stepchildren, and a blended family that includes 11 grandkids.