The History of Crayons
Part 9 – The Expanding Giants
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, Part 7 – Changing and Growing, Part 8 – Enter the Small Players
The Big Eight
By the mid 1910s, the industry was segregated to the big eight and then everybody else. The “big eight” consisted of the American Crayon Company, Binney & Smith Co. (makers of Crayola), the Franklin Crayon Company, Joseph Dixon Crubicle, Milton Bradley, the Munsell Color Company (through Wadsworth, Howland & Co.), the Prang Educational Company and the Standard Crayon Company.
With the industry maturing and saturating, some of the pencil companies phased out of the crayon market and went back to focusing on their core pencil products. Only Eberhard Faber and Eagle Pencil stayed in the game. Faber would continue with crayon products up to the current day. Eagle Pencil held out to the mid 1930s before giving up on the market.
Many of the smaller companies either didn’t have the resources or weren’t willing to step up to compete with the big eight. That’s because they were dominant in the marketplace by continuing to change and expand.
By 1912 the Standard Crayon Company was selling “penny packages” and the consumers loved them. They offered 7, 8 or 9 tiny crayons in an attractive tuck box and sold them for only a penny. They were selling “The Clover”, “The Acme” and “The Hummer” all as penny products during this time.
Some of the other big eight companies also followed Standards lead and brought forth their own penny packages to compete. One of the first to follow suit was the American Crayon Company. They took their flagship line, the American, and produced a penny package assortment called “The American Surprise No 96.” In doing so, they also came up with a first of their own in the industry by designing a box with open slots where a consumer could see the crayons inside the box. Their design was copied by nearly all manufacturers in the future. These so-called “windows” were common-place by the mid to late 1930s.
Standard Crayon continued to use these packages throughout the 1910s and also the 1920s. They introduced the Buster line in this size as well. Eventually even Binney & Smith joined in on the craze, producing two different boxes of Tiny Tots crayons. One of the boxes was green and the other red. They had a banner window in the center of the front to show the crayons. The crayons were affordable because they never came with paper wrappers and because they were smaller in length and much thinner than the standard crayon, the companies could afford to sell them for less money. With their size though came the same problems Binney & Smith as well as other companies experienced throughout this decade; that the thinner crayons broke easily and consumers weren’t happy about it.
Another thought at the time was that the younger the child, the smaller the crayons. Tiny hands and fingers must certainly need tiny crayons! The smallest sized crayons were targeted toward the kindergarten ages while the standard or large crayons were targeted toward older school children or even artists. Of course, current thinking is just the opposite. The youngest children who are just beginning to develop their motor skills toward artistic endeavors need a tool that is larger and easier for them to manipulate until they master some of the more intricate finesse needed for more ambitious art projects with crayons. Of course, it took educators many years to rethink their position on this and the change in philosophy could be seen in the crayon industry.
One of the most innovative concepts to come from the penny package phenomenon was on American Crayon Company’s Kroma line of penny packages they added in the 1920s. The front of their Kroma line featured the same blue design but the back contained a series of coloring book like drawings that children could color right on their package. The idea was brilliant; and they made many different pictures for their boxes.
In addition to the coloring backs, they briefly experimented with separate advertising subcontracts. The only surviving example of this is a Phoenix Hosiery back. By creating a special back advertisement, retailers could give away crayons to their customers and still have their own advertising on it. This was very similar to having a book of matches or some other give away to hand out. It was a good source of special make up sales for American but it is unclear how successful they really were with it given that there are so few examples to have survived.
These penny packages were good sellers and while the companies didn’t necessarily make a lot of money on them, they got their product out to the consumer and it helped sell their more profitable sized assortments. Ultimately, higher costs and the small size of the product ended the penny package craze.
Standard Crayon hit a homerun with the penny package product but they kept to their standard operating model of putting out new and different crayons through the rest of the decade. Products like Bon-Ton were introduced. The Falcon line was still their primary line of crayons and they produced a dozen or so assortments using the name; from Falcon Best to Falcon Sunset to Falcon Student crayons.
By the end of the decade, popularity and production costs had forced the wooden canisters out of the marketplace. Standard Crayon was one of the longer holdouts, keeping their Gem and Falcon canisters going when nearly all of the other manufacturers stopped using them. By the early 1920s, even they stopped producing wooden canisters.
One of the longer running brands from Standard Crayon debuted in this decade. Crayel was their answer to the crayon sounding brand name they were looking for. By this time, many of the bigger companies were looking for an answer to address the increasing use of Crayola as the replacement word for crayon.
American Crayon Company already had Crayograph and Crayonart. Other companies were popping up with names like C-r-a-y-o and Craocolor. Standard Crayon put out their first ads for Crayel in Sep 1913 and as the decade went by they relied more heavily on its success and less on some of their original lines such as Crestlight and Falcon. Yes, the times they were a changing!
American Crayon Company was extremely busy growing their dominance during this decade. In addition to their major coloring contest and second promotion of the Crayograph line, they introduced the Pastello brand, a solution to addressing the pastel needs of artists with their own line. They were also looking for an answer to address Crayola’s move to standardize their brand. In 1915 they came up with the Old Faithful symbol to replace their original round American logo. They felt that the Old Faithful logo was the most widely recognized symbol that would embody their desire for national and global expansion.
Another major contributor to changes during this decade was World War I. The war impact caused Prang to get behind in their payments and by the end of the decade, they found themselves selling off rights to use the Prang name on all manner of art products to American Crayon. Only Prang’s publishing endeavors were kept separate from the deal and the American Crayon Company were quick to capitalize on the deal and use the Prang name on their own line of Prang crayons. Eventually they would combine their own crayon lines with the Prang name on lines such as Crayonex.
Finally, by the very end of the decade, American Crayon Company moved their East Coast operations into the New York area and set up a factory in Brooklyn, NY. This allowed them easier access to foreign markets and gave them a strong presence in New York; one of the key cities for business operations during this time frame.
The biggest assortment you’ve never seen
The Franklin Crayon Company wasn’t giving up in this decade either. Hurt by dwindling market share with so many other players encroaching into their original market, they fought back and tried a strategy nobody had ever tried up to that time and wouldn’t try for another couple of decades: Produce a huge color assortment for retail.
Their new high grade crayon line came in a special 175 crayon assortment. Given there are no records or surviving examples of this historic offering, we cannot be sure just how many colors they offered in this assortment but even without substantiating this, the mere fact that they offered a product with this many crayons was monumental and unprecedented in the industry. The largest assortment of crayons ever assembled up to this time was 48 colors and those assortments came from Europe. In the USA, 30 was largest assortment offered prior to the 1930s. Perhaps one day this mystery will be solved and we’ll know what this assortment looked like and how many colors they placed in it. For now we’ll just keep in mind that they again were the pioneers on a marketing idea years ahead of its time.