The History of Crayons
Part 7 – Changing and Growing
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, Part 4 – Turn of the Century, Part 5 – Early Crayola, Part 6 – The Golden Era
Two Can Play the Game
By the next decade, American Crayon Company decided to step up their advertising campaigns. Despite their Crayonex, Crayonart and Pastello debuts a couple of year’s earlier and good coverage to grow them, they felt more was needed. Crayola successfully launched their brand through the effective use of a coloring contest. Two could play at that game. First, they let the industry know of their intentions.
They covered as wide as possible to reach the education and art industries on both sides of the country by advertising in over 50 publications; many of them state run home schooling periodicals that supplied the industry with the needed materials (and advertising for equipment) that parents and school teachers needed to continue their education.
School was becoming more and more of a focus as a serious pursuit at this time because child labor, which had peaked at over 2 million by 1900, began to scale back. Over the decade from 1910 to 1920, various child labor laws were instituted; having grown from grass roots slavery boycotts and complaints to end up with the federal government taking action.
With families unable to put their children to work other than on rural farming living conditions, they put them into schooling instead. The shift was the right timing for the crayon companies to really grow their businesses and despite the fact that companies like American Crayon Company, Binney & Smith and Milton Bradley were growing into dominance, the decade (and even the next few to come) still afforded opportunities for smaller players to enter the marketplace in the hopes to gain market share from some of the bigger and more established companies.
American Crayon Company first put the news of the contest out to generate the needed interest. They let the industry get talking about it and spread the word to look for the contest in future publications which they of course followed up with various announcement advertising along with the actual contest rules. They simply referred to their crayon products as new on the market despite being on the market and having advertised them for at least two years. It was an effective strategy to reenergize their products.
And with the buzz of money to be won in the contest growing, they released their contest campaign.
The American Crayon Company continued to capitalize on the event long afterwards. They would frequently feature the winning entries in displays at trade shows and in publications for years to come. Here is one such reference from the July 1911 School Arts periodical:
While the American Crayon Company reaped benefits in sales through their contest effort, other companies were busy with other focuses of their own. C.F. Weber & Co started getting into the crayon game towards the end of the year and while they weren’t focusing specifically on just crayons, they began listing them into their advertising by 1910. Unfortunately that is all we know of their crayon efforts as no documents for physical assortments have surfaced to date to be able to tell more of their story.
Binney & Smith launched their own non-wax pressed crayon line called Durel and entered into direct competition with Dixon’s line, American’s Crayograph line (which was the current focus of their contest), Milton Bradley’s Springfield Solid line along with several other company products. Competition was getting tough during this time but the expansion of schooling helped support all the crayon industry as they sought to meet the demand and attempt to dominate over their competitors with their own products.
Binney & Smith debuted their Durel product with advertisements first appearing in February 1910. While American Crayon Company may have dominated the crayon industry buzz during this year with their contest, Binney & Smith took some of the wind from their sails by debuting their Durel product before the Crayograph contest was scheduled to be held.
Time for a Change
Interestingly, Crayola’s Feb 1910 ad also shows us a partial window into changing times for the company. Earlier they featured a color line-up of 30 (when in reality there were 38 colors out there) but by this decade they had dropped the colors to only 24.
In 1908 their product line had peaked at 20 assortments featuring 30 colors (though in reality there were 38 colors used across their entire catalog). By 1910 they stopped advertising how many assortments they had and started advertising only 24 colors. With all the expansion going on during this time period, what happened in the interim to make it appear as if they were trending down instead of up?
Efforts to convert their catalog into a standard recognizable product were well underway by 1910. With the successful debut of the No. 8 back in 1905, they had been shown that this product alone stood out and had merit for the future. By the time 1910 rolled around, their No 54 assortment (which was also 8 colors and preceded the No 8 by almost two years) was retailing for twice the cost of the No. 8. Consumers and educators liked the inexpensive cost of the No. 8 and the company could see that through their sales. It was time to shift gears and engrain not only the name of Crayola into the consciousness of the industry but also the look of the product. No other crayon manufacturer up to this point had considered such an endeavor; they were simply trying new designs and new products hoping to gain market share in the process.
Many of their original assortment boxes were costlier to produce. The No 101 box was actually fabric based. The Rubens Crayola No 500 was large, expensive and more difficult to carry around. Their standup boxes were both more efficient and portable and these products were discontinued quickly. Their flagship Crayola box with the 28 colors was also discontinued. Crayola quickly found that the larger sized crayons from the No. 8 box were easier for children to use and less likely to break. As the No 41, 41B, 47, 51 and 57 boxes all contained these smaller crayons they were all part of the reduction. Gone too was their largest assortment, the No 30. These crayons didn’t come with wrappers and the crayons were simply longer variations of the No 51 but without the wrappers. As such, they were really vulnerable to breaking and so their assortment offering did drop from 30 colors to 24 colors when that assortment box was discontinued.
Meanwhile, they were also changing many of their other products. Two of the first to actually be converted were the No. 6 and the No. 12 assortment boxes. The Rubens Crayola line had already lost the more expensive No 200 and No 500 boxes. The No 6, 12, 18 and 24 were left. They quickly converted the No 6 and 12 boxes to the Gold Medal line and then introduced a No. 16 box containing 16 colors…their answer to Franklin’s Golden Gate debut a couple of years earlier. While the 6 and 12 crayon assortments weren’t as popular, the 16 crayon assortment was an immediate hit.
This decade also sparked the first time that the Binney & Smith Co. used actual pictures of their product on their print advertising. They started the approach in 1912 with separate ads for Rubens-Crayola and for the Crayola No. 8. They would expand this to include Durel product as well as Spectra by the end of the decade.