Paint by Numbers in its popular form was created in 1949 when Dan Robbins was hired by Max Klein, President of the Palmer Show Card Paint Company in Detroit, to create products, like washable paint sets for kids.
Dan remembered Leonardo da Vinci’s technique of giving his apprentices numbered patterns to follow and figured the same technique could be translated to the masses.
In 1950, he took his idea to Klein and Craft Master paint kits were born, showcased at Macy’s department store in New York City in March 1951. Each paint-by-numbers kit included two brushes and all the required premixed, numbered paints.
By 1953, Dan Robbins was supervising 75 artists as they sketched and painted thousands of subjects, including ballerinas, The Beatles, clipper ships, frisky kittens, the Mona Lisa and tropical birds. Robbins’ wife, Estelle, test-painted each image and wasn’t surprised by the demand for more
By 1954, 12 million kits had been sold.
The Pop Art movement adopted paint by numbers in the early 1960s as part of its commentary on popular culture. By the early 1990s, the paint-by-numbers phenomenon had come full circle, as the paintings themselves again became collectable.