The History of Crayons
Part 6 – The Golden Era
This is a multi-part series of articles written to tell the tale of the history of the wax crayon.
The Influx of Competitors and Advertising
From the time Crayola hit the marketplace in June 1903 up to the end of the decade, many other companies entered into the crayon market wanting a piece of the action. Even though it seemed that Crayola was late in getting into the competitive arena, their late 1904/early 1905 advertising campaign was immediately effective and set a standard approach for years to come. By holding a cash coloring contest using their new Crayola product, they got immediate and instant attention from the industry, the media, the educational system and consumers. Their cash prizes approach with advertising was copied by several of the other manufacturers over the years.
Wadsworth, Howland & Company got into the crayon business in 1905 by representing the New England Crayon Company out of the Boston, MA area. Their angle into the market was a steam operated molding machine that they claimed allowed them to pass on savings to the customer because the cost of making the crayons was cheaper using this proprietary system. Their operations were small though and they produced only a Pride line of crayons. They were one of only two companies to use Palmer Cox’s licensed Brownie characters on their crayon products. Palmer Cox made the Brownie characters a national pop art phenomenon from the 1880s through the early 1900s with books and daily cartoon strips featuring the characters. They were also the very first licensed characters to be used on products and crayons were no exception to the plethora of companies lining up to associate themselves with the craze. The New England Crayon Company used them on their 28 color Pride box.
The other company to feature the Brownie characters was American Crayon Company. They put out several different crayon assortments with the characters starting with their original 1902 catalog debut and carrying the products into the early part of the 1910s before discontinuing them.
Crayola (then Binney & Smith) quickly developed a relationship with Milton Bradley and used some of their channels to help sell their product. In 1905, bolstered by their Gold Medal win from the year earlier during the St. Louis World’s Fair, they introduced their mainstay box, the No 8. Gold Medal. This was not only the first appearance of this box but also the start of a complete change for their entire catalog of assortments to come.
Milton Bradley already had a long established selling structure for their Bradley and Springfield lines of crayons that went back into the late 1800s. In Jun 1905, they used their own advert to announce the introduction of the No. 8 box in various teacher and education publications.
This relationship continued for only a few years until the Crayola name established itself in the industry. By that time Binney & Smith’s infrastructure to advertise and sell their product was firmly in place. One of the last efforts the two companies collaborated on was a special box featuring both the Crayola name and the Milton Bradley name right on the front. Interestingly, that No. 77 box isn’t cataloged in any of the Binney & Smith price lists or records and may have been a pure subcontract relationship with Milton Bradley. The box was short lived and only one known box has survived.
The crayon industry was thriving across the water in Europe by this time too. In addition to Conte’ and a host of Paris brands like Couleurs, L. & C. Hardtmuth set up shop in New York to sell their products in the states. In 1905 they boasted one of the largest crayon and colored chalk palates available with 48 colors available for each.
No manufacturer in the United States could boast of so many color selections at this time. However, the costs and the consistency of the product arriving from Europe only helped to increase competition here in the United States. By the summer of 1905, Joseph Dixon’s crayon line was making inroads into California cities. The California Gold Rush and the Western migration of the mid and late 1800s helped establish cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles to the point that they were demanding more educational product out west.
By the end of 1905, the Franklin Manufacturing Company was beginning to feel like their pioneering dominance was really threatened. In 1906 they changed their name to the Franklin Crayon Company to bolster recognition of their early leadership in this industry.
Wadsworth, Howland & Company expanded their representation in the crayon industry in 1906 as well. They landed the coveted license to produce the Munsell line of crayons. Albert H. Munsell was a professor who did scientific experiments in color that led to his published 1905 “A Color Notation” work. Munsell is famous for inventing the Munsell color system which at the time was one of the first attempts at creating an accurate system for numerically describing colors. To go with this color work, Munsell began to take his colors and adapt them to paints and crayons. The earliest of this effort came through Wadsworth, Howland & Company who represented his company in the same way they represented the New England Crayon Company.
They offered various assortments from a small size all the up to their 22 color size that featured 20 colors broken into maximum and middle values and chroma and then a gray and a black thrown in. Munsell’s crayons quickly gained a reputation for excellent quality and color. They were considered a premium art crayon.
The Ullman Mfg Company, New York, also got in the crayon business at some point during this era. Their flagship crayon line, Priscilla came in both all-crayon assortments as well as kindergarten outfits; a common assortment of items needed for art which included either a box of crayons inside the larger outfit or placed in individual crayon compartments inside.
With the addition of Ullman Mfg Co, Brooklyn was quickly becoming another epicenter for crayon manufacture during this time. Meanwhile, the American Crayon Co and the Standard Crayon Company continued to add new crayon products to their line up; hoping for the right one to catch on with their consumers.
The Prang Educational Company continued to sell their watercolor crayons far into this decade as well. In March, 1907 the Franklin Crayon Company launched their new Golden Gate line.
Interestingly, without any fanfare of notable recognition, Franklin had done it again. They pioneered the original tuck box here in the states back in the 1880s and had put out the original No. 8 assortment and now had the first No. 16 assortment of colors; sizes that would become standards in future years. The most common sizes in this early era of crayon production were 6, 7, 8, 9 (in a wooden canister), 12, 14 (in a wooden canister), 18, 24 and 28. By the end of the next decade, most 7, 9, 14 and 28 size boxes were discontinued.
By the end of 1906 and into early 1907, American Crayon Company launched three major crayon lines that they would use for decades to come. The first to appear was Crayonex. These were pressed crayons designed to compete with the Springfield Solids from Milton Bradley and the Dixon pressed crayons. Shortly after that came the Pastello; a line of pastel crayons targeted for artists to compete with the Conte’ brand. Finally, in the spring of 1907 they introduced a new line of wax crayons called Crayonart. Each debuted in the increasingly popular 8 color assortment size box.
By the end of the year American Crayon Company had blanketed the educational periodicals advertising their new products. They split their efforts between art and informational campaigns and ads with illustrations of the actual boxes. Judging from the duration of these products, their early efforts were as successful as Crayola’s had been a year or two earlier. The Crayograph pressed crayons were actually wax-free and made from a material being imported from France, which raised the price to 10 cents a box; twice that or more of the typical school wax crayon of the time. However, American’s selling point on these was that because they weren’t wax, they lasted much longer than a wax crayon and had colors more vibrant. This appealed to the artistic side of the marketplace.
In 1908 Crayola made a deal with Littlefield Maps to provide a coloring key to Old Testament biblical maps they were producing. Taking the Rubens-Crayola No. 12 box, Crayola simply pasted on a special color list to the box and sold them to Littlefield. From there, various churches began to take notice and use the one-off special boxes. Today, only one known still exists; originally thought to be an unauthorized add-on to the box.
Also by 1908 Franklin had completed changing over all of their products with their new company name change and got back to illustrating their products in periodicals again. They focused on one of their flagship crayon lines, the Franklin’s Rainbow box.
Their ad also spoke to the growing concern over their marketplace shrinking with more and more competition. For the first time they took action to draw attention to the fact that they created the first No. 8 assortment box and had been publicly displaying their products since 1893 and producing them since 1876. It was a strong message back to the Crayola, Standard Crayon Company and American Crayon Company upstarts that they were there first and intended to stay dominant.
Despite their efforts, by the end of the decade, Crayola’s superior quality was already taking hold. Only the Munsell line was considered to be a higher quality and they cost more. While various educational pockets split their allegiance between the crayon companies, the word Crayola was already beginning to become synonymous for the word crayon.