The History of Crayons

Part 4 – Turn of the Century

This is a multi-part series of articles written to tell the tale of the history of the wax crayon. 

You can visit earlier parts here:  Part 1 – Origins, Part 2 – The Wax Crayon Pioneers, Part 3 – Invasion of the Pencil Industry


The Ever Expanding Industry


By the end of the century and with the Kindergarten movement in full swing more and more companies began to cater to the crayon demand.  One of the first to open doors was The Standard Crayon Company, who actually began their operations in the late 1890s.  Though the exact date of their beginning is not clear, there is documentation that exists indicating they had over 60 workers by 1899 and even expanded their Lynn, MA factory in that same year.  It is also unclear exactly when they started producing wax crayon products but ads featuring their Centennial and Falcon brands of crayons began appearing as early as Jan 1900.



Perhaps one of the most mysterious lines of crayons to offer a full set of brands was a company simply known as B.B. (they have a trademarked double bumble bee on their logo.)  They offered several boxes similar in size and composition to that of the earliest of crayon boxes from the late 1800s or early 1900s with products such as Cadet (featuring a civil war tent camp backdrop), Favorite, Junior Artists, and The Winner brands.  While it hasn’t been substantiated when and what company produced these, the color listings on their Cadet box are identical to those listed on Standard Crayon’s flagship Falcon brand of crayons.  It is very likely that Standard Crayon either produced all of these brands under a different logo or that Standard started with a different company name, producing these crayon brands before changing and producing new lines under the Standard Crayon company name.  Currently there are no historical records that have surfaced to substantiate exactly when their products were sold so the history, order and even company origins remain a mystery.  Only physical crayon boxes exist for which to compare with other products from a similar era.  Perhaps in the future this piece of the puzzle will get solved.

BB Crayons

Early on, styles and configurations for packaging crayons established.  The earliest of packages were offered in boxes that had an outer wrapper and slid all the way off either vertically or horizontally depending on the design each company used.  These boxes contained 28 different colors and listed the colors on the outside of the box for consumers to readily identify what colors were available in the set.  In addition to these full-sized boxes, smaller boxes of 6,7,8,10 and 12 colors were also available in the traditional tuck flap boxes that are still used to this day.  Another common packaging option from the early years is the wooden canister.  These canisters didn’t necessarily predate their paper based counterparts they were merely another packaging option from a company’s full product catalog.  These typically came in 9 and 14 crayon configurations.  The canisters consisted of two pieces of wood that split apart in the middle.  Each canister would have their product logo and design printed on paper that was wrapped around the wooden canister and glued on.  The consumer would end up splitting that design in half when they went to open the canister.  It is very rare to find unopened canisters from this era.


Enter the Giants

By 1901, the popularity and demand for Charles A. Bowley’s crayons exceeded his ability to keep up with orders.  He sought to partner with another company that could handle the ever increasing production needs.  The American Crayon Company was just who he was looking for.  They partnered with Bowley to increase his output by adopting his crayons and offering a full blown catalog of various crayon boxes that debuted in 1902.  These boxes included The American Crescent Drawing Crayons in 7 and 14 color packages, the American Special School and Drawing Crayons in 7 and 14 colors, the American Electric drawing crayons in 7 and 12 colors, the American Brownie crayons in 7, 12 and 28 colors along with a wooden canister containing 14 colors, the American Perfection crayons in a wooden canister of 7 colors, the American Banner containing six colors and a pencil sharpener.


At the time, the American Crayon Company, out of Sandusky, OH, consisted primarily as a manufacturer of white and colored chalk.  Their partnership with Bowley was the first of several partnerships that brought them into prominence in the wax crayon market.  In 1907 Bowley joined the American Crayon Company as an associate.

The American product name was only one of a handful of products in the country to be allowed the exception to use the “American” name on a product.  The federal government had placed a ban on using the word for products and grandfathered in only a few since they already had the name established from their company name.

Even though by the summer of 1903 the Standard Crayon Co. had been operating successfully in the Boston area for many years and American Crayon Co. had over a full year to establish themselves in Ohio and also around the Boston area, the pencil industry in the game across the major areas like Chicago, New York and Boston, another prominent company emerged that year in the New York and Pennsylvania areas.  Despite Franklin Mfg. Co already having established themselves for decades in the crayon market in the same area, Binney & Smith Co. (currently Crayola® LLC) also developed their own famous line of wax crayons. 

With only grass root strategies and few periodicals to support the industry, each new crayon manufacturer found markets with little or no competition.  Edward Binney & C. Harold Smith had been long established in the coloring marketplace through Binney’s father, Joseph Binney and his Peekskill, NY chemical works factory making lampblack by burning whale and carbon black and later instrumental in the coloring of automobile tires.  The two cousins started their reputation with the acquisition of a red oxide they used on barns across America having developed the paint as part of their color interests.


In 1902 they developed and introduced the Staonal marking crayon.  Together, Edwin and Alice Stead Binney developed the Crayola® crayon in 1903.  Alice came up with the name Crayola® by combining the French word for chalk, craie, with the first part of oleaginous, the oily paraffin wax used to make the crayon.  Though wax crayons had been in the marketplace for several decades, the formula used to make the Crayola crayon was considered to have exceptional quality for a low cost product.  They made their debut in June 1903 by selling them door to door for a nickel and quickly expanded their product catalog by the end of the year.


In addition to their pure Crayola line, they also offered a Rubens-Crayola line targeted at the artists’ marketplace and designed to compete with the Rafael line coming out of Europe.  Both Peter Paul Rubens and Rafael were well known renaissance painters and using both on crayon products appealed directly to artists.  By early 1904 they published a pamphlet called “The Art of Crayola Painting.”  The pamphlet was designed to educate the consumer on their product while also showcasing their catalogue.  On the inside of the pamphlet they attached a photo of 13 of their original crayon products.  Though this wasn’t their entire catalog offering at the time, it was one of their first existing advertising pieces.  One of the first sales contracts they acquired was through the federal government who used their product on Native American reservations.

Another major milestone in 1904 was the St. Louis World’s Fair that debuted in March of that year and ran through November.  Binney & Smith entered their An-du-Septic dustless chalk and won a Gold Medal.  The medal, designed by Adolph A. Weinman, was a prestigious achievement.  Many companies in the day used such an accomplishment to help sell their product by advertising their success right on the product.  Two companies to use the 1904 medal were Jack Daniel's whiskey (which still use it on their bottles to this day) and Binney & Smith.  They used the opportunity to develop an entirely new packaging strategy by emphasizing their Gold Medal on the front of many of their products and crayon boxes. This strategy turned out to be so successful and recognizable to their brand that they phased out nearly all of their other Crayola line box designs to adapt to the Gold Medal format. The Gold Medal branding appeared on their crayon boxes packaging for the next 50 plus years.

By the time they finished their initial prototype in 1905 they offered their new No. 8 crayon box (with eight crayons) from their Gold Medal line by featuring a copy from the side of the medal with an Eagle on it. For whatever reason, this was changed to the other side of the medal with the 1904 date on it in Roman Numerals.  Only the newly created No 8  box ever used this side of the medal.  From there they began to transition and phase out other Crayola® crayon boxes used earlier until eventually their entire line of Crayola® crayons featured the Gold Medal design.  They would use this feature for over 50 years; permanently infusing their crayons into the consciousness of consumers and catapulting the Crayola® brand into the world leading crayon brand; one recognizable to nearly everyone.


Next:  Part 5 – Early Crayola