The History of Crayons
Part 2 – The Wax Crayon Pioneers
This is a multi-part series of articles written to tell the tale of the history of the wax crayon.
You can visit part one here: Part 1 – Origins
Wax Crayon Pioneers
With America entrenched in the Western expansion and then the Civil War, the period of the mid 1800s relied on crayons from Europe if any at all. Companies like Offenheim & Ziffer, out of Elbeteinitz, Czech Republic, were offering an assortment of colored wax crayons. Ceresine production began in Europe around 1874 and provided a more cost effective solution for wax crayons. It wasn’t until the 1880s that America began to see wax crayons show up other than the ones imported from Europe. One of the major movements to contribute to the development of the wax crayon in the United States was the Kindergarten movement. Both Art Education in schools and the focus on creativity for children directly influenced the need for a different coloring medium.
Companies emerged to support of this kindergarten and art education movement and began grass root efforts in various areas around the United States. The major areas for this industry to spring up were in New York, Boston, Sandusky, OH, and Easton, PA.
One of the earliest recorded pioneers to make wax crayons were E. Steiger & Co. in New York. The company provided a wide assortment of materials supporting the Kindergarten movement. From publishing to school materials, they provided an entire catalog of products including wax crayons as early as June 1876. It is interesting to note that their crayons were not only available in boxes but also in 18 different colors even at this early time in the industry. There isn’t enough evidence to be able to determine whether these crayons were simply colored pencils or not. It is also conceivable that E. Steiger & Co. were simply middle-men providing an end-to-end kindergarten line by subcontracting with another company for their crayons; even one from Europe but no documentation supports a conclusion either way.
The Franklin Mfg. Co. started in Rochester, NY in 1876 making lumber and shipping crayons and expanded to colored wax crayons by the early to mid 1880s. They had a display of crayons at the World Columbian Exposition in 1883.
They regularly advertised their Rainbow, Radiant, Peacock and Educational brands of crayons in various art and educational catalogues and periodicals throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s including some ads that featured their boxes pictured in the ads. In 1906 they changed their name from the Franklin Mfg. Co to the Franklin Crayon Company and remained in operation until 1927. Several Franklin crayon boxes exist in collections today and feature other crayon brands not advertised in magazines and catalogs suggesting that they produced a varied catalog of wax crayon products throughout the years.
Another one of the earliest recorded evidence of the modern paraffin wax crayon comes from Charles A. Bowley, a resident outside of Danvers, MA who developed what he thought were the first wax coloring crayons in the late 1880s. Mr. Bowley had been selling various stationary items around the vicinity of Danvers and had developed clumps of colored wax designed for marking leather. With the need for more accuracy, he went back to his home and formed the wax crayons into more manageable cylinder shapes similar to that of a pencil. The crayons were approximately five and one-half inches long and sold out quickly. He packaged his crayons into decorative boxes and offered them through stationer clients he knew. The demand for his crayons soon exceeded his ability to keep up with production and he contacted the American Crayon in 1902 to partner and create a full blown catalog of crayon offerings.
Louis Prang, one of the principal fathers of art education in schools throughout the United States, also developed his own line of watercolor crayons, very similar to the modern wax-based crayon. Prang was born in 1824 in Breslau, Silesia (present day Poland) and studied printing and dyeing techniques in Bohemia before immigrating to America in 1850. Prang developed a four-color printing process known as chromolithography in the 1860's. Prang's system was the first workable system to reproduce color in print. He used chromolithography to reproduce great works of art for classroom use. He is also known as the “father of the American Christmas Card”, having made the first in the late 1870s. Through his business, the Prang Educational Company, he sold several crayon products during the timeframe from the mid 1880s through the early 1900s. Several examples of these exist in private collections to this day.
Founded in 1860, the Milton Bradley Company is the oldest game manufacturer in the United States. They didn’t stop by offering just games however. They were also instrumental in the promotion of the early kindergarten movement rising up during the late 1800s and also invented the color wheel. Bradley, inspired by a lecture from Elizabeth Peabody on the teachings of German scholar Friedrich Froebel concerning education through creative activities, spent much of his life developing and selling products around this pursuit. Through the Milton Bradley Company, he produced wax crayons for retail as early as 1895 under the Bradley name. They also produced a Springfield Solid pressed crayon line early on.