All libraries remain closed to the public until further notice. Library To Go service is available at selected libraries.

The Day the Crayons Were Made

Tina Lerno, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
vintage crayola crayon boxes
March 31 is National Crayon Day!

If you look up, "What is a crayon?", you will get a dictionary definition like this: A crayon (or wax pastel) is a stick of pigmented wax used for writing or drawing. Wax crayons differ from pastels, in which the pigment is mixed with a dry binder such as gum arabic, and from oil pastels, where the binder is a mixture of wax and oil. Mixing wax with pigment to create a drawing tool has been around since Roman times. Yeah, okay. But what I want to know is about Crayola crayons and who we can suspect National Crayon Day is really about. This is where it gets interesting.

Crayola crayons were the invention of Messrs. Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith in 1903. Edwin Binney took over his father’s company, Peekskill Chemical Co, in 1885 and formed a partnership with his cousin C. Harold Smith. They called the new enterprise Binney & Smith. They started by manufacturing red iron oxide pigments used for painting barns, and lamp black which had all kinds of applications but primarily to make rubber tires black. They won awards for their “Peerless” Black, including a Gold Medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

They soon began to diversify their product line and entered the education market, creating slate school pencils and dustless chalk. They were manufacturing the Staonal marking crayon for commercial use, but after working with educators, saw that crayons might have an application in the classroom. Edwin with help from his wife, Alice Stead Binney, developed his own product line of wax crayons in 1903 under the name Crayola. Alice came up with the name which is a merging of craie, the French word for chalk, and ola for oily. Ola was also a popular ending for products at the time; Think Granola, Victrola, and Shinola. The first boxes had 8 crayons and sold for a nickel.

They were not the only ones to have this idea. At one point there were over 300 crayon companies! Rose Art Industries and Dixon Ticonderoga are among a handful that still survives, with many others absorbed spongelike into the Binney & Smith juggernaut or their direct competitors. Binney & Smith purchased the Munsell Color Co. in 1926, allowing the color selection to expand to 22. Albert Henry Munsell invented the Munsell color system and also the color wheel. Of course, Binney had to make his own color wheel utilizing the Crayola line of colors.

Throughout the years, the line of Crayola colors has expanded and changed. Some controversial some mundane. In 1962 the color named Flesh was changed to Peach to be more inclusive and allow for the fact the flesh comes in more than one shade. In 2020, Crayola introduced a new line of 24 colors named "Colors of the World" to reflect nearly 40 skin tones of people around the world. The box of these crayons includes a gradient skin tone label with color names written in Spanish and French. According to Crayola, they currently manufacture 120 standard crayon colors. (They do have an expanded line of specialty crayons like metallic, gel, and glitter crayons).

Binney & Smith was purchased by Hallmark in 1984, and they officially renamed it Crayola LLC in 2007. It’s no wonder they dropped the Binney & Smith; Crayola has an astonishing 98% name recognition rate around the world, though Binney and Smith's heirs might feel differently.

So how does one celebrate National Crayon Day? Well, here are a few suggestions from this librarian: Color in a coloring book (Yes, there's also a post about Coloring Book Day), read a book about crayons, make a craft using crayons.

Below is a list of books about crayons and more. Also, a link to coloring pages we have on our site for you to download and print at home. Happy coloring!

Crayons to Color Your World

Crayola Creators: Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith
Slater, Lee

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
Biebow, Natascha

The Day the Crayons Quit
Daywalt, Drew

The Day the Crayons Came Home
Daywalt, Drew

The Crayons' Book of Colors
Daywalt, Drew

My Crayons Talk
Hubbard, Patricia

Pete the Cat: Crayons Rock!
Dean, Kim

A Day With No Crayons
Rusch, Elizabeth

Hall, Michael

Red: A Crayon's Story
Hall, Michael

Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure
Park, Linda Sue

How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow
Sweeney, Monica

Harold and the Purple Crayon
Johnson, Crockett

Harold and the Purple Crayon: The Complete Series

Crayons: From Start to Finish
Woods, Samuel G.

My First Book of How Things are Made
Jones, George

What Happens at a Crayon Factory? = ¿qué pasa en una fábrica de crayones?
Guidone, Lisa M.

Creating With Crayons: Simple Tips to Amaze!

From Wax to Crayon
Nelson, Robin

Crayon: An Artist's Colorful Guide to Drawing on the Go!
Forsberg, Monika

The Art of Crayon: Draw, Color, Resist, Sculpt, Carve!
Bell, Lorraine

Crayola!: The Secrets of the Cool Colors and Hot Hues
Williams, Bonnie

Crayola Boredom-Busting Crafts
Felix, Rebecca

Amazing Crayon Drawing with Lee Hammond
Hammond, Lee

Charcoal, Sanguine Crayon, and Chalk

Drawing Tools & Materials: A Practical Guide to Graphite, Charcoal, Colored Pencil and More

A Color Notation
Munsell, A. H. 1858-1918

Munsell: A Grammar of Color
Birren, Faber

Crayon Portraiture: Complete Instructions for Making Crayon Portraits
Barhydt, Jerome A.

The Coloring Crook
Davis, Krista