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A crayon (or wax pastel) is a stick of colored wax, charcoal, chalk or other material. A crayon made of oiled chalk is called an oil pastel; when made of pigment with a dry binder, it is simply a pastel. A grease pencil or china marker (UK chinagraph pencil) is made of colored hardened grease. There are also watercolor crayons, sometimes called water soluble crayons.
Crayons, which are available at a range of price points, are easy to work with, often less messy than paints and markers, blunt (removing the risk of sharp points present when using a pencil or pen), typically non-toxic, and are available in a wide variety of colors. These characteristics make them particularly good instruments for teaching small children to draw in addition to being used widely by student and professional artists.
In the modern English-speaking world, the term crayon is commonly associated with the standard wax crayon, such as those widely available for use by children. Such crayons are usually approximately 3.5 inches (89 mm) in length and made mostly of petroleum (paraffin wax). Paraffin wax is heated and cooled to achieve the correct temperature in which a usable wax substance can be dyed and then manufactured for use around the world. Paraffin waxes are used for cosmetics, candles, for the preparation of printing ink, fruit preserving, in the pharmaceutical industry, for lubricating purposes, and crayons.
The history of the crayon is not entirely clear. The word "crayon" dates to 1644, coming from (chalk) and the Latin word creta (earth).
The notion to combine a form of wax with pigment actually goes back thousands of years. The Egyptians perfected a technique using hot beeswax combined with colored pigment to bind color into stone in a process known as encaustic painting. A heat source was then used to "burn in" and fix the image in place. This method, also employed by the Romans, the Greeks and even indigenous people in the Philippines around 1600-1800, is still used today. However, the process wasn’t used to make crayons into a form intended to be held and colored with and was therefore ineffective to use in a classroom or as crafts for children.
Contemporary crayons are purported to have originated in Europe where some of the first cylinder shaped crayons were made with charcoal and oil. Pastels are an art medium having roots with the modern crayon and stem back to Leonardo da Vinci in 1495. Conté crayons, out of Paris, are a hybrid between a pastel and a conventional crayon; used since the late 1790s as a drawing crayon for artists. Later, various hues of powdered pigment eventually replaced the primary charcoal ingredient found in most early 19th century product. References to crayons in literature appear as early as 1813 in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Joseph Lemercier (born Paris 1803—died 1884), considered by some of his contemporaries to be “the soul of lithography”, was also one of the founders of the modern crayon. Through his Paris business circa 1828 he produced a variety of crayon and color related products. But even as those in Europe were discovering that substituting wax for the oil strengthened the crayon, various efforts in the United States were also developing. Prehistoric artists were the first to use makeshift chalks and clay sticks to express artistic views, all in natural pigments from which the clay and chalk was made. The use of wax being used as an artistic medium began back with Greek art in a period of time known as the Golden Age. The Wax Encaustic Technique was described by the Romans, even though created by the Greeks. Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, was thought to describe the first techniques of wax crayon drawings. §
The initial era of wax crayons saw a number of companies and products competing for the lucrative education and artist markets. In addition to the giants like Binney & Smith/Crayola and American Crayon/Dixon Ticonderoga, other companies popped up in the industry at various times from the late 19th century to the early 1910s.
Binney & Smith Company (later to be named Crayola LLC) developed their own famous line of wax crayons beginning on June 10, 1903. Edwin Binney & C. Harold Smith had been long established in the coloring marketplace through Binney’s Peekskill, NY chemical works factory making lampblack by burning whale and carbon black and later instrumental in the coloring of automobile tires.
In 1902 they developed and introduced the Staonal marking crayon. Edwin Binney, working with his wife, Alice Stead Binney, came up with their famous Crayola brand of crayons. 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.
Binney & Smith were quick to capitalize on their creation by offering 19 different boxes with 30 different colors including the Crayola No 51 which featured their largest selection of colors with 28. The Rubens Crayola line started in 1903 as well (not in the 1920s as previously documented by many sources) was directly targeted toward artists and designed to compete with the Raphael brand of crayons out of Europe. Rubens were featured in everything from the small 6-color box to the No. 500 with 24 colors. In addition to their highly familiar Crayola line, they also made many other crayon lines including Anti-Roll, Arista, Art-Toy, Besco, Boston, Cerata, Cerola, Chic’ago, Doo Zee, Durel, Easy-Off, Gotham, Liquitex, Munsell Crayola, Perma, Pooh, Protfolio, Rubens, Spectra, Tiny Tots, Washable and Widstrok.
By far the most recognizable brand was their Crayola “Gold Medal” line in the familiar yellow boxes. The Gold Medal referred to a Gold Medal the company earned with their An-du-Septic dustless chalk during the March 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Over 39,000 awards were given out using the medals designed by Adolph A. Weinman. Receiving a medal at an Exposition was and still is something of importance with many companies featuring their medal on their products. 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 award to design an entirely new line of crayons featuring the medal on the front of their box. Initially, they developed and introduced the No. 8 box of eight assorted colors (this famous box is usually depicted on most historical material associated with Crayola; it was even featured on a postage stamp) in early 1905 using the side of the medal depicting an Eagle but quickly changed to the other side showing the 1904 date their medal was won. 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 design to identify their brand for over 50 years, permanently infusing their crayons into the consciousness of consumers and catapulting the Crayola brand into the world's leading crayon brand. The Crayola brand is currently owned by Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri.
One of the first companies to offer up a line of wax crayons aimed for kindergarten use. Located out of New York, NY, it is unclear when this company started producing crayons but based on a known ad from 1881, they clearly offered wax crayons in boxes of 6, 12, and 18 colors.
The Franklin Mfg. Co, founded in 1876 in Rochester, New York, was one of the first companies to make and sell wax crayons. While it is undetermined when the company began manufacturing wax crayons, they were indeed selling them as early as 1883, having appeared with a display of crayons at the World's Columbian Exposition that year. They regularly advertised their Rainbow, Radiant, Penguin and Educational brands of crayons in various art and educational catalogues and periodicals throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century. In 1906, they changed their name from the Franklin Mfg. Co to the Franklin Crayon Company and remained in operation until 1927.
The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, originally the A. W. Faber Company, was founded by John Eberhard Faber (1822–1879) in 1861. The company is primarily credited with bringing German lead pencil-making techniques to the United States. The Faber family was known for lead pencil manufacturing in the village of Stein, Germany, near the city of Nuremberg as early as 1761 when the business was founded by Kasper Faber. His son Anton Faber took over in 1774 and the company came to be known as the A.W. Faber Company. Anton’s grandson, Johann Lothar, took charge of the business in 1839.
Johann Lothar’s youngest son, Eberhard Faber (1822–1879), came to the United States in 1848. He settled in New York City, and by 1850, had opened a store selling pencils and other stationery items in Manhattan. In 1861, Faber opened the American manufacturing branch of A.W. Faber, in a factory close to the East River, near 42nd Street (Manhattan), where the United Nations now stands. It was the first pencil factory opened in the United States.
Faber also developed his own line of wax crayons by as early as 1883. E. Faber’s wax crayons were available in packages of 6, 12, 18, 24 and 36 in a variety of assorted colors. While their cedar wood encased crayons were a hybrid on the traditional all wax crayon, this nonetheless should be regarded as one of the earliest available wax crayon products. Later they would offer traditional all-wax crayons as well. After a fire destroyed the original factory, they moved their location to Brooklyn. The Faber Company grew to become one of the largest pencil manufacturers in the world, with additional factories located in Germany, Canada, and Argentina.
Another one of the earliest recorded evidence of the modern paraffin wax crayon comes from Charles A. Bowley, a resident outside of Danvers, MA who developed what he thought were the first wax coloring crayons in the late 1880s. Mr. Bowley had been selling various stationery items around the vicinity of Danvers and had developed clumps of colored wax designed for marking leather. With the need for more accuracy, he went back to his home and formed the wax crayons into more manageable cylinder shapes similar to that of a pencil. The crayons were approximately five and one-half inches long and sold out quickly. He packaged his crayons into decorative boxes and offered them through stationer clients he knew. The demand for his crayons soon exceeded his ability to keep up with production and he contacted the American Crayon Company in 1902 to partner and create a full blown catalog of crayon offerings.
The Joseph Dixon Crucible Co. was formed in March 1868 from the existing Joe Dixon and Company that Joseph Dixon ran. While the company primarily produced pencils, like many of their contemporaries (E. Faber and Eagle Pencil) they too expanded into a line of wax crayons for offer in 1887. The Dixon Solid Crayons were offered in as many as 15 colors by 1902. In addition to their initial Dixon brand they went on to produce the Educator, Gem and Prestite lines of crayons before the company merged with American Crayon to form the Dixon Ticonderoga Company in 1983. They continue to produce numerous brands of crayons to today.
Louis Prang, one of the principal fathers of art education in schools throughout the United States, also developed his own line of watercolor crayons, very similar to the modern wax-based crayon. Through his business, the Prang Educational Company, he sold several crayon products during the timeframe from the late 1880s through the early 20th century. Several examples of these exist in private collections to this day. In 1915 Prang merged his company into the American Crayon company and he served on the board for several years afterward.
Perhaps one of the most mysterious companies to offer a full set of brands was a company simply known as B.B. (they have a trademarked double bumblebee on their logo.) They offered several boxes similar in size and composition to that of the earliest of crayon boxes from the late 19th century with products such as Cadet (featuring a civil war tent camp backdrop), Favorite, Junior Artists, and The Winner brands.
Founded in 1860, the Milton Bradley Company is the oldest game manufacturer in the United States. They didn’t stop by offering just games however. They were also instrumental in the promotion of the early kindergarten movement rising up during the late 19th century. Bradley, inspired by a lecture from Elizabeth Peabody on the teachings of German scholar Friedrich Fröbel concerning education through creative activities, spent much of his life developing and selling products around this pursuit. Through the Milton Bradley Company, he produced wax crayons for retail as early as 1895 under the Bradley name. In addition to the Bradley line of crayons, they also produced Brodlyne, Copley, Banner, Big Boy, Crayrite, Economo, Embeco, Manual Art, Tru-Tone and Springfield Solid and other brands. In addition, they produced a series of licensed character crayon products such as Popeye, Mother Goose, Howdy Doody, Little Lulu, Moon Mullins, Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie and Sergeant William Preston. The company was acquired by Hasbro in 1984.
The Standard Crayon Company began their operations in the late 1890s. Though the exact date of their beginning is not clear, there is documentation on a receipt from the state of Maine from 1897. There is also information on size of the company from 1899 police report investigating child labor complaints (the company had 72 employees that 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. They went on to produce Clover, Acme, Hummer, Gem, Crown, Crest Light, Bon-Ton, Crayel, Velazquez, Buster, Old Master, Viking, Bril-Tone, Murillo and other crayon lines before eventually being purchased by Binney & Smith Inc. in 1958.
Known for their chalk crayons, the American Crayon Company in Sandusky, OH spread out to the wax crayon market in 1902. As the popularity of Bowley’s crayons spread to schools, his ability to keep up with production forced him to partner with the American Crayon Company who increased his manufacturing output by adopting his crayons and offering a full blown catalog of crayons 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.
They continued to expand their crayon line to include brands such as Blendwel, Crayograph, Crayarto, Colorit, Crayonart, Crayonex, Emerald, Excello, Giant, Imperial, Kantroll, Kindograph, Kroma, Lakeshore, Old King Cole, Paragon, Pastello, Payons, Perfection, Popeye, Prang, Sketcho, Playmates, Waxena, Wonder and Young Artist brands among others. In 1957 they merged with Joseph Dixon Crucible which eventually merged to form Dixon Ticonderoga Company in 1983; which continues to make and sell crayons to this day.
In 1902 another pencil company began to offer up crayons. The Eagle Pencil Company, New York, NY, featured a line of wax crayons offered up in 6 and 12 count boxes with a color line that included White, Pink, Violet, Terrasienna, Yellow, Blue, Brick Red, Brown, Orange, Red, Green and Black. Eagle Pencil began in 1856 and quickly became one of the four major pencil manufacturers in the United States (Joseph Dixon Crucible, Eberhard Faber and American Lead Pencil were the others.) Though always considered a side item, they continued with their crayons through the mid 40s with the introduction of their Color-Glo Eagle crayons. They closed their NY factory in 1958 and under various mergers and acquisitions they still operate selling pencils to this day with Berol.
There isn’t a lot of clear data on L. & C. Hardtmuth, New York, NY except to know that they were pencil and crayon manufacturers starting with crayons at least as early as 1903; perhaps even earlier. What is interesting about this company at this time was their large selection of crayon colors for the time. A 1905 ad describes 48 different colors available for sale; the most variety of colors coming out of any crayon manufacturer at the time.
New England Crayon Company began their crayon operations in 1905 under Wadsworth, Howland & Co. out of Boston, MA. This company ran until 1912. They introduced a line of Pride crayons featuring the popular "The Brownies" characters. They were available in 28 colors. Their factory boasted having the only steam operated molding machine back in 1907; allowing them cost efficiencies passed on to the consumer.
Another significant contributor to crayon history is Albert Henry Munsell, the professor who did scientific experiments in color that led to his published 1905 “A Color Notation” work. He created the Munsell Color System in 1915 and started his own Munsell Color Company in 1917. Initially he produced high quality coloring crayons through Wadsworth, Howland & Co. as early as 1906 and then later through his own company Binney & Smith purchased the Munsell Color Company crayon product line in 1926 and inherited 22 new colors, 11 in the maximum and 11 in the middle hue ranges. They kept the Munsell name on products such as “Munsell-Crayola” and “Munsell-Perma” up until 1934 and then incorporated their colors into their own Crayola Gold Medal line of boxes.
In 1949 Binney & Smith Co. revamped their colors and names and only 8 of the original 22 Munsell colors survived. Maximum Blue became Turquoise Blue and one of only three surviving colors to this day. Maximum Blue-Green became Azure Blue and later Green Blue until officially retired in 1980. Maximum Purple became Medium Violet but got dropped from the line up with the introduction of the Crayola No 64 box in 1958. Maximum Purple Blue became Medium Blue and also got dropped in 1958. Maximum Yellow-Red became Medium Orange and then Burnt Orange in 1958 and is still a color used today. Middle Blue Green made it until 1958 but got dropped because they had already come out with their own Blue Green color in 1930 and it was this color that survived. Middle Purple became Lavender and also is still a color in the Crayola color palette.
Many other companies took to producing crayons as well. J. Pressman out of New York had a license for Disney's Snow White characters and produced Snow White crayons for a short time. Ullman Mfg Co., NY was another early crayon adopter featuring their Priscilla brand of crayons. Hundreds of companies entered the crayon market, but only a few exist today, with Crayola dominating the market in the United States.
In all, there were over 300 documented crayon manufacturers in the United States and many more in other countries.
Beyond Crayola, other brand name crayon manufacturers today include Rose Art Industries and Dixon Ticonderoga. There are also numerous suppliers who create generic brand or store brand crayons. These are typically found in supermarkets.
In 2001 there was a concern about potential contamination of asbestos in many popular brands of crayons after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in May of that year that they had tests performed finding that three brands of crayons contained asbestos. In a follow-up study released in June the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found traces of asbestos fibers in three crayons and larger amounts of transitional fibers which can be misinterpreted as asbestos as a result of using talc as a binding agent in additional crayons. CPSC declared the risk to be low, but said that because of the concerns it had asked manufacturers to reformulate the concerned crayons and commended them for their swift agreement to do so. Further tests have shown the risk to be insignificant, especially since the largest risk of asbestos is produced when it becomes friable and is then inhaled. Because the fibers are trapped in wax this is unlikely. As part of their testing the CPSC simulated heavy use by a child and did not find significant amounts of fibers released.
Early French artists such as Francois Clouet (1510-1572) and Nicholas L'agneau (1590-1666) used crayons in their early art projects. Clouet used crayons for his modeled portraits, which were so elaborate he caught the attention of Henry V, who knighted him. He became court painter for the royalty, and his whole art career started and consisted of some wax crayon art. L'agneau illustrated his portraits with outlines in wax crayons, and with tints of watercolor. His portraits were often of people who looked surprised or unaware of their surroundings.
Sister Gertrude Morgan was most known for preaching the Gospel around New Orleans with simplicity and easy to understand crayon drawings. Morgan caught the eye of a gallery owner E. Lorenz Borenstein, and was allowed to show her work, play her music and spread her word of God at the gallery. Her early drawings were that of just very modest and simplicity crayon drawings, depicting biblical text to provide a clearer image to those unfamiliar with the Bible. Morgan went on to publish a record of her biblical songs and has artwork featured in the American Folk Art Museum in New York.
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