Crayola celebrates 100 years of color

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

EASTON, Pa. -- The first box sold for a nickel and contained eight colors: Red, blue, yellow, green, violet, orange, black and brown. Crayola has been coloring inside the lines ever since.

In an age in which video games and talking dolls and high-tech educational toys compete for their attention, kids are still turning to the combination of paraffin wax and pigment to express themselves in riotous color.

Crayola is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with an array of new products that it hopes will appeal to a new generation of children. But it's the humble crayon that made Crayola a household name, and it remains the brand's No. 1 seller.

At its sprawling manufacturing plant outside Easton, hundreds of workers run the machines that churn out 3 billion crayons a year. The air is heavy with the unmistakable Crayola scent, derived from an ingredient that makes the color transfer more effectively from crayon to paper.

Nowadays, Crayola makes crayons that are twistable, erasable and washable. But until a child picks one up and starts coloring, they're still just lumps of wax.

Chris Byrne, an independent toy consultant, said Crayola crayons remain popular a century later because they satisfy an elemental childhood need.

Form of self-expression"Kids are always drawing what's on their mind. Before they can write, before they have more sophisticated methods of self-expression, they are using crayons," he said.

Crayola was launched by Edwin Binney and his cousin, C. Harold Smith, who started out in 1885 making red oxide pigments for barn paint and carbon for black automobile tires.

In 1900, they opened a mill in Easton to produce slate pencils for schools. They soon identified a market for affordable wax crayons and in 1903, Binney & Smith produced the first box of eight.

Crayola became a classic American brand because it was able to keep its name so closely linked with crayons. One key date in Crayola history is 1958, when the now-ubiquitous box of 64 colors debuted.

Built-in sharpener

"It was a big deal to get the box with the built-in sharpener. They're still hot with my kids," said Chris Spiri, 33, who visited Crayola last week with her 5-year-old son Connor and 3-year-old daughter Hannah.

That same year, the first Crayola color underwent a name change -- Prussian blue became midnight blue because schools were no longer teaching Prussian history. Other name changes reflected changing attitudes about race and culture. Flesh became peach in 1962; Indian red became chestnut in 1999.

Crayola plans to retire another four shades this year. On the chopping block are burnt sienna, blizzard blue, teal blue, mulberry and magic mint. Crayon fans will be able to vote online to save one of the five from extinction.

Binney & Smith -- now a subsidiary of privately owned Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo. -- is innovating in other ways. A few years ago, Crayola colors began gracing children's bedding and tinting bathtub water. Kids can color with Crayola markers that change colors and produce spider-web effects.

Last year, Crayola introduced the Crayon Maker, which melts down crayon stubs (dubbed "leftolas" by a pre-schooler in Milbury, Ohio) and turns them into new crayons.


Since its debut 100 years ago, Crayola has become one of the most recognizable brand names in America. Here are some facts about Crayola:

Crayons, markers, colored pencils and other Crayola products generated $500 million in revenue last year for Binney & Smith, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards Inc.

Crayola crayons come in 120 colors, including 23 reds, 20 greens, 19 blues, 16 purples, 14 oranges, 11 browns, 8 yellows, 2 grays, 2 coppers, 2 blacks, 1 white, 1 gold and 1 silver.

Some crayon names were taken from the U.S. Commerce Department's National Bureau of Standards book, "Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names." Others were borrowed from traditional artists' paints; still others were coined by kids.

More than 100 billion Crayola crayons have been produced since 1903.

Americans' favorite color is blue, according to Crayola's online poll.


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