I'd like to believe the old stories about how things were created but over time, stories tend to get distorted into mythical tales.

Take the creation of the Crayola brand name.  Sure, the founder, Edwin Binney's wife, Alice Stead Binney came up with the name.  That's a famous and well documented historical bit.

What I wonder is...what influenced her thinking?

The year was 1903 and while crayons were being produced in the United States by Standard Crayon, American Crayon, Franklin Mfg, Milton Bradley, Joseph Dixon, Eagle Pencil and a few others already, still much of the crayon supply came in from Europe.  The French in particular were entrenched in the artists mediums.  Conte' was one of the oldest and largest at that time.

They also had a crayon product called Crayolor which was on the market at least as early as 1900 but may in fact go back even earlier.

Could that have been a direct competitive influence when they chose the name?  We may never know but I find the similarity interesting

Of course, even closer to the mark is the story of their artist line of crayons.  Binney & Smith put out a separate product line called "Rubens" to focus on the artistic industry while the standard Crayola brand focused primarily on the education sector.  The Rubens line have been a bit mis-informed over the years.  Countless documents have them debuting in the 1920s when in fact they debuted right from the beginning in 1903.  Interestingly, the French also had a grand-master sponsoring a crayon product (well, not literally sponsoring of course).

Take a look at the above Raphael box and tell me that the first Rubens box isn't very similar in design and concept.

Coincidence?  Perhaps...but I don't think that's very likely.  I think it was a shrewd marketing ploy for Crayola to compete head to head and displace the European influence in the crayon market.  And guess what?  It worked.  While the Rubens line only lasted a few decades, they did their part of tip the scales of crayon manufacturing to the USA as Crayola became more and more dominant.

Of course, other countries play a factor in naming too.  One of the big mysteries is what this crayon box really is?  Clearly this was either a blatant copyrite infringement at a time when perhaps global enforcement wasn't possible or it was a mocked up box created as a joke.  Either way, this "other" Crayola product by a Hong Kong company remains a mystery.

The back story is that this is a photo copy of an actual box of crayons by some Crayola employee long ago and there is a note next to it that says "How did we get these?" on it.  Unfortunately, the physical boxes were destroyed in a flood at their headquarters many years ago so we don't have any further evidence to support a theory either way.  Maybe some day the truth will reveal itself and the mystery will get solved.


  1. Ha! Ed, we wish we could help sort out this question of the "real" beginnings of Crayola brand. You've laid it out pretty well, even past the beginnings of the Munsell Color Company, so maybe someone will have some more clues to offer -- or it can remain a fun mystery :)

  2. Munsell - Thanks. I have some great old shots of the original Munsell crayon boxes that were sold through Wadsworth, Howland & Co back in the 1910s/1920s. I even have the larger 22 color box from back then. Perhaps I'll do a post on Munsell crayons and then you can correct my history research! It's hard to get everything right with snippets of information sometimes. All the research I've seen though regarded the Munsell crayons as high quality in the eyes of artists and educators back then.