When the summer begins to cool down and children and parents alike prepare for the start of the school year, there is one company that will undoubtedly find a place on every list of back to school supplies: Crayola Crayons.
Initially known as Binney & Smith, Crayola was founded in New York City in 1885. It was initially intended to be an industrial pigment supply company. The co-founders, cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, had little interest in making educational school supplies, and instead created inexpensive black colorants used for making car tires black.
At the turn of the century, the company began producing slate school pencils and new, dustless chalk. The dustless chalk becomes so popular, in fact, that it received a gold medal at the St. Louis World Exposition.
While Binney & Smith reps visited schools to sell the pencils and chalks, they all noticed a reoccurring theme; Schools were badly in need of a high-quality, affordable wax crayon. Almost immediately, Binney & Smith made its industrial marking crayons smaller and added different colored pigments to the wax, creating a perfect school supply.
Crayola Crayons have been a staple of educational school supplies ever since.
The word crayon goes back as far as 1644, taken from the French word craie. However, the idea of combining wax with a color pigment goes back as far as the Ancient Egyptians, who combined hot beeswax with colored pigments to put color onto stone. This was known as encaustic painting. The method was also used by the Romans, Greeks, and certain indigenous people in the Philippines.
However, this technique wasn’t intended for children and had little use as an educational school supply.
The modern day crayons are easy to work with, tidy in comparison to paint and markers, non-toxic, inexpensive, and available in virtually any color. Because of this, they have become “must-haves” on any list for school or camp supplies for generations.
The name “crayola” was the idea of Binney’s wife Alice, a former schoolteacher who combined the French word “craie” with “ola,” intended to represent “oily.” The Crayola brand has an incredible 99% name recognition in U.S. consumer households, and is sold in approximately 80 different countries worldwide.
A Yale University study placed the scent of Crayola crayons as the 18th most recognizable smell for adults, placing higher than stenches such as cheese and bleach. In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative Crayola Crayons stamp, celebrating the cultural impact the product has had on America.
Crayola Crayons are also featured in both The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, as well as the National Toy Hall of Fame, which inducted Crayola Crayons as one of its original members.