In 1885, cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith took over the Peekskill Chemical Company in the US, named it Binney & Smith, and busily manufactured the pigments that made most barns of the time red, and a lot of automobile tyres black.
The company also catered for the educational market, developing slate pencils and the then-famous An-Du-Septic brand of dustless chalk – dustless enough to win them a teacher’s gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair.
While touring schools to promote their educational products, Binney and Smith learned that teachers imported primitive (and expensive) wax crayons from Europe.
Back at their factory, they had developed a coloured stick to mark up boxes and crates – so why not make those very sticks non-toxic and mass-produce them?
Alice Binney, Edwin’s beloved, came up with the new product’s name by combining two French words which when put together, meant “oily chalk.”
In 1903, the first yellow and green box of Crayolas appeared. They came in a box of eight and cost a nickel.
Binney and Smith marketed their crayons toward both artists (the logo on those boxes read “unequalled for outdoor sketching”) and schoolchildren (“good in any climate, certified non-toxic”).
The 48-crayon box was introduced in 1949, the classic 64 with a built-in sharpener in 1958, and then came 1993’s Big Box – a whopping 96-colour palette.
There have been a few name changes of course: “Prussian blue” became “midnight blue” (kids didn’t know Prussia from the North Pole), “Indian red” became “chestnut”, and in 1962, “flesh” became “peach”.
Fluorescent colours arrived through the 70s and 80s, giving busy producers of refrigerator art choices like “atomic tangerine”.
Over two billion of the things are sold every year, in over sixty countries. Over six hundred colours have been developed, and today, there are over a hundred and twenty that are produced.
When Binney & Smith retired eight old colours in 1990 in an effort to make room for more modern choices, old school Crayola devotees would have none of it. Their protests were so hearty that the company released the retired colours in a special commemorative box.
Hallmark Cards owns Binney & Smith today.