Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Apple #300: Crayons

I suppose the 300th Apple should be more of a self-referential, celebratory entry. But I already did my big reflective entry with the Top Daily Apples of 2007. And I really want to do an entry on crayons. So we'll make this the celebration: yay, 300!

Now, on to the good stuff.

I was in the grocery store, and I passed by the school supplies section. That area always sings its siren song to me, and this time I paused. Instead of being drawn to the notebooks as I usually am, this time my eyes went straight to the crayons. Specifically, I stared at the box of 96 Crayola crayons, with built-in sharpener.

The box of 96, open and I have no doubt, fragrant.
(Photo from Picture Fish's blog of photos)

I picked up the box, and without even bringing it to my nose, I could smell the crayons in there. Reader, I bought them.

It has been a coloring extravaganza around here ever since. I have a couple coloring books that are more abstract than the usual fare, and which allow you to be more creative. In coloring them, I have been delighting in the range of colors, from pale pink to violet red, and the veritable festival of blues. I have not even begun to sample all the fancy new colors that include speckles of metallic glitter, and some other new items that say "gel" on the label. I don't even know what delights those hold in store for me. It is enough to have so many shades of blue I don't know which ones to choose.

It is always a bit of a disappointment to wear down those satisfying points at the tip. But it's either that or never actually color with the crayons. And I'm sure not swearing off crayons.

Brand-new crayons with untouched tips
(Photo from Swain's Art Supplies)

  • Crayons existed before Binney & Smith made their first Crayolas, but nobody seems to remember who made them.
  • The crayons that Binney & Smith first made in 1903 were more durable and less expensive than crayons for artists, and they were designed specifically for children. Teachers handed them out in their classrooms, the children loved playing with them, and the long and happy life of Crayola crayons began.

What the early boxes of 8 looked like.
(Photo from Mike's 1904 St. Louis World's Fair page)

  • Binney & Smith also makes washable Crayola markers, a product beloved by parents everywhere. And I like those, too, especially how they come in varying widths. But really, there's nothing like a good crayon.
  • Binney & Smith is now owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. That's been the case since 1984.


  • Crayons are made of paraffin wax and pigment. That's it.
  • The wax is melted to liquid form, the pigment is added, and the colored wax gets poured into a mold.
  • The mold has 1,200 crayon-shaped holes, so each mold makes that many crayons at a time.
  • The mold is dunked into cold water to cool the wax. After it hardens, a hydraulic press shoots the crayons out of the mold.

Here are the crayons being pushed out of the mold.
(Photo from PBS Kids Mister Roger's Neighborhood)

  • Somebody inspects the crayons for broken tips. Thank you, crayon inspector!
  • The paper label is wrapped around each crayon and secured with a non-toxic glue made with corn starch (little kids like to eat the labels).
  • The crayons are then packaged into boxes.
  • And that's how my box of 96 crayons was born.

Crayons getting collated before dropping into boxes
(Photo from PBS Kids Mister Roger's Neighborhood)

  • The first boxes of Crayola crayons contained 8 colors: black, brown, orange, violet, blue, green, red, and yellow.
  • They didn't add more colors until 1949, when Binney & Smith came out with their box of 48 crayons.
  • Since then, they've been adding more new colors and retiring a few, just about every decade. There are now 120 colors.
  • Name changes, in response to customer requests:
      • Prussian blue changed to Midnight blue in 1958
      • Flesh changed to Peach in 1962
      • Indian Red changed to Chestnut in 1999

Same colors, but newly renamed as Midnight blue, Flesh, and Chestnut, respectively.
(Swatches from Crayola)

  • Colors retired because they were considered no longer interesting enough:
      • Green blue
      • Orange red
      • Orange yellow
      • Violet blue
      • Maize
      • Lemon yellow
      • Blue gray
      • Raw umber
      • Blizzard blue
      • Magic mint
      • Mulberry
      • Teal blue
  • My commentary on some of the color changes:
      • I'm glad they got rid of Maize. In our family, we used to call it Elephant poo.
      • I've always found those colors that combine two names to be confusing. Is the color more like the first word in the name or the second? I never seem to guess right.
      • I wish they would get rid of Cornflower, or at least fix it. For some reason, that one never colors right. However hard you press, it always comes out wimpy.
  • Some recent new colors, named by consumers, include Macaroni and cheese, Granny smith apple, Denim, Tickle me pink, Razzmatazz, and Robin's egg blue.

Razzmatazz, one of the young bloods in the crayon box.

  • In 2000, Crayola asked consumers to tell them which color crayon is their favorite. The overwhelming choice: blue. Ordinary, basic, from-the-first-box-of-8 blue.

Blue. The favorite.

  • Seven of the top 10 favorites were shades of blue.


  • Crayon comes from the French and Latin words for "chalk."
      • Which makes sense because the blockbuster product Binney & Smith made before they made crayons was dustless chalk.
  • The 100 billionth crayon was made in 1996 by Fred Rogers of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. Its color was blue ribbon, and that's the only time that color has been made.
  • It is estimated that each year, children in the U.S. together spend 6.3 billion hours coloring. (Now, if we could just get the adults to spend more time coloring. . .)

These children are coloring with markers, colored pencils and crayons. Lucky.
(Photo from Wake Forest University Irish Festival)

  • To get crayon out of carpet, spray on some WD-40 and rub gently. If that doesn't work, spray on some more WD-40, let it soak in, then use a bristle brush to loosen it. Add some dishwashing liquid and wipe with a damp sponge. Repeat if necessary.
  • The smells of coffee, peanut butter, and crayons are the top three scents people find the easiest to recognize.

Crayola, The History of Crayola, Crayola Crayon Chronology, Stain Removal Tips, Color Census 2000
The Crayola site also has several pages for children to color, which you can print out for free
Howstuffworks, How are Crayons and markers made?, History of Crayola
Online Etymology Dictionary, crayon
Arthur Elementary School, Crayon Facts and Figures


  1. nice milestone.

    jim f.

  2. I absolutely love this blog entry! I remembered that clip from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood as I was reading the entry and then you had it. I was thrilled. And I totally agree with you about Cornflower. It's lame. And....there was a Jeopardy! question the other night about Prussian blue changing to Midnight blue in 1958.

    I love this entry so much that I'm going to read it again.


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