Back-to-school shopping means aisles and aisles of school supplies, although few supplies hold as much possibility as a new box of crayons. The multiple hues standing sentinel in the stadium boxes are enough to inspire creativity in even the most practical child. And while kids love to color, teachers appreciate the innate skills that crayons help develop, like color identification and gross motor skills. Regardless of whether a crayon is used for education or enjoyment, crayons, particularly Crayola crayons, are an irreplaceable piece of childhood.
1.) It’s all in the family
Cousins Edward Binney and Harold Smith formed the partnership of Binney & Smith as an offshoot of Edwin’s father’s business, Peekskill Chemical, which produced a range of red and black products, such as lampblack, charcoal, and barn paint. Binney & Smith expanded the line to include school pencils, dustless chalk, and black marking crayons to be used to mark crates and barrels. Recognizing that the black crayons were toxic and unsuitable for children’s use, they adapted the technique to mix non-toxic wax and pigment together to create the crayons we know and love today. Keepng it in the family, Binney’s wife Alice christened the new creations “Crayolas” by combining the named French word “craie” (meaning chalk) with “ola” (meaning oily). (Link 1, 3, 5)
2.) What a bargain
The first pack of 8 Crayola crayons was sold in 1903 at the low cost of 5 cents per box. Available in red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, black, brown, they were marketed “for educational color work.” Great ideas are timeless, and standard boxes of 8 crayons are still packaged with the original colors. (Link 4, 5)
3.) It’s what’s for dinner
Recognizing the possibility that children could possibly ingest crayon labels, Smith and Binney created a non-toxic glue consisting of cornstarch and water. And although Crayola crayons are lead-free, the fear of lead in imported crayons prompted a 1994 investigative study by the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. As a result, 11 brands of generic crayons imported from China were recalled in 1994 due to high lead levels. (Link 6, 9, 10)
4.) And thinking of labels
Crayons were originally hand-labeled by farmers as a way to supplement their income during the winter months. A machine took over in 1943 and was so efficient that it’s still in use today. This machine double wraps the crayons to provide extra strength, explaining why it’s so difficult to peel a worn-down crayon. Though crayons are available in 120 colors, there are only 18 label colors translated into 11 languages (English, Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Japanese). (Link 3, 6)
5.) It’s beautiful. What shall we name it?
The majority of crayons are named from a book called “Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names” from the US Commerce Department’s National Book of Standards. Others have more colorful origins. Some colors, such as burnt umber, are traditional colors named after artists’ paints. A few have been named by Crayola employees, while some, like the color macaroni and cheese, are the winning entries from Crayola-sponsored contests. (Link 4, 7)
6.) Crayons are timeless, but their names….well….not so much.
Several Crayola crayons have been subjected to name changes over the years. Purssian Blue was renamed in 1958 at the behest of concerned teachers. It turns out that kids didn’t know enough about Prussian history to recognize it as the color of a Prussian soldier’s military uniform. It was rechristened as “midnight blue.”
And Prussian blue isn’t the only color to be reassigned. In response to the Civil Rights movement, the color formerly known as “flesh” was rechristened “peach” to acknowledge diversity of skin tones. And although “Indian red” was actually named for a red pigment from the country of India, Crayola responded to teachers’ requests to rename the color with a renaming contest in 1999. Over 250,000 entries were received in a contest to rename the color, with “chestnut” beating out suggestions such as “Mars red,” “baseball glove brown,” and “old penny.” (Link 2, 4)
7.) Thank you for your service
Though the original 8 colors have withstood the test of time, other colors haven’t fared as well. Although some colors have been renamed, Crayola deemed it necessary to retire 8 colors in 1990. The rationale? These colors were dull and unappealing to modern kids. And so it was with great fanfare that the colors green blue, orange red, orange yellow, violet blue, lemon yellow, blue gray, maize, and raw umber were retired to the Crayola Hall of Fame in Easton, Pennsylvania. The crayons didn’t take to retirement quietly though. Protestors gathered in front of the Easton, Pennsylvania, plant as the RUMPs (Raw Umber and Maize Protection Society) and the CRAYONs (Committee to Reestablish All Your Old Norms) to protest the change. Their voices were heard, and the colors made a special appearance in a holiday commemorative collection that year to pacify the protestors. (Link 1, 2, 5)
8.) A priceless treasure
Crayola Crayons officially achieved status as a national treasure when a 1958 box of 64 count Crayola crayons, the first to come with the built-in sharpener, was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in 1999. The box, a nostalgic artifact for Baby Boomers, is particularly noteworthy as it is one of the few known to exist. How big was the ceremony? Captain Kangaroo, also known as Bob Keeshan, was in attendance. The box is displayed among other national treasures like the original Star Spangled Banner and Julia Child’s kitchen. (Link 1, 5)
9.) Get a whiff of this.
The actual composition of crayons is a closely guarded secret, but the smell is universal. A 2008 study asked 200 people to identify recognizable scents. Crayons ranked 18th behind other prominent smells like the number 1 and 2 ranked scents of coffee and peanut butter but ahead of the number 20 ranked smell of bleach. (Link 3, 5)
10.) How’s that for productivity?
Over 12 million crayons are produced per day at the Crayola factory in Easton, Pennsylvania. The process is similar to Binney and Smith’s original method. Pigment and paraffin are combined and stored in 17,000 gallon tanks. The colored wax, heated to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, is poured into molds, which can make 1200 crayons at a time. The entire process, from pouring to packaging, takes from 3-9 minutes. (Link 3, 5)
The average kid spends 28 minutes coloring per day between the ages of 2 to 8. By a child’s 10th birthday, he or she has used up 730 crayons, which is enough to cover the entire floor of an NBA basketball court. In the United States alone, 6.3 billion hours are spent coloring every year. (Link 3, 4, 6)