The Colorful History of Crayola Crayons

Set of what looks like colored Crayola crayons in wooden holder

Crayola crayons have a wonderful, colorful history. These waxy sticks that produce a variety of mesmerizing colors have captivated artists of all ages. With products for the preschool set, art supplies for children everywhere, and a great way for adults to escape their everyday stress, this company is helping make the world a more beautiful place.

Who Is Crayola?

Crayola LLC is an American company that provides a wide range of art supplies, but it is best known for its Crayola crayons. The Crayola company began as the Binney & Smith Company which was initially a business that offered industrial pigments. Over time, Binney & Smith evolved into a company that could supply homes and schools with all of their art needs. They first offered chalk, and then, later on, they produced the crayons we know and love today. They eventually expanded their line to include markers, colored pencils, modeling clay, and paints.

Crayola products are made in the United States and are nontoxic. These traits have only added to their popularity among parents, artists, teachers, and children. In addition to the beloved crayons, Crayola manufactures watercolors, acrylics, tempera, and brushes within their “Portfolio Series Brand.” They even made Silly Putty, a common toy in American households. All of these products helped make Crayola a staple in the art and toy industry.

The Creation of Crayola Crayons

Crayons in a rainbow of colors with blank white space

Binney & Smith was founded in 1885 by two cousins. Edwin Binney and Harold Smith started their company in New York City where their first products were colorants made for industrial usage. They provided the iron oxide pigments that gave barn paints their unmistakable red color as well as carbon black chemicals that gave tires their black color while extending the tires lifespan. The company won a gold medal award in the 1900 Paris Exposition. As they experimented with new materials like talc, cement, and slate waste, Binney was able to create a white dustless chalk. This little invention earned them a gold medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Amidst all of this success, Binney & Smith were able to become incorporated during 1902. It was the same year that they introduced the Staonal marking crayon. Working with his wife, Edwin took this one step further by developing his own line of wax crayon products that debuted on June 10 of 1903. This new line was marketed under the name Crayola.

Edwin’s wife, Alice, was the one that came up with the name Crayola. A former school teacher, she combined the French word “craie” which means “chalk” with “ola” which means “oily.”

The Iconic Box

Yellow box of colored crayons

When someone mentions Crayola crayons, you immediately picture in your mind that iconic box. The colors, design, and size evolved over time into what we know and love today. Whether buying the small package of crayons required on a teacher’s school supply list or picking out a large collection of colors with a sharpener built-in, there is no mistaking the Crayola brand.

Crayola first introduced crayons to the public as part of an entire product line. Crayola was providing young and old artists alike a variety of box sizes. The crayons themselves came in five different sizes. Only two of those five still exist. This would be the standard crayon size and the large version that is preferred for the little ones.

The original product line encompassed boxes that ranged from holding only six crayons all the way up to boxes that offered 30 different colors. Boxes with unwrapped crayons were marketed to artists, while many crayons came in numbered wrappers. A list was included inside the box, which had all the colors and their corresponding numbers. Of course, they also had ones where they placed the color’s name directly on the wrapper.

Crayola Crayon Colors Expand

Sharpened crayons in bright colors on white isolated background

In 1926, Binney & Smith bought a similar crayon product from the Munsell Company. This gave them 22 new colors to work with. At first, they kept the Munsell name alive by combining it with Crayola. Consumers were able to find Munsell-Crayola and Munsell-Perma crayons available on the market until 1934. At that point in time they incorporated the new colors into their own Crayola product line. This allowed them to offer their largest color collection so far. The 52 color assortment survived until 1944.

In 1958 the company once more expanded its crayon offerings. For the first time, consumers could purchase a box of Crayola crayons with a built-in sharpener. This box contained 64 colors, and it was the first of its kind to hit the market.

Crayola introduced a line of markers in 1978 as part of their 75th anniversary celebration. The privately held Hallmark Cards corporation acquired Crayola in 1984, and by 1987 colored pencils and washable markers joined their ever expanding line of products.

The year 1998 brought even more recognition to the company when they entered the toy hall of fame. Binney & Smith reorganized on January 1 of 2007 as Crayola LLC. ”My First Crayola” launched in 2011. This new and unique line of products included flat-tipped markers and triangular shaped crayons marketed towards the very young children.

Then in 2015, Crayola went the complete opposite direction by offering ”Color Escapes” as a stress reliever for adults. This new idea was basically coloring books and crayons for grown-ups. Instead of cartoon characters and cute themes such as baby animals, these coloring books used gardens, geometric patterns, natural scenes, and kaleidoscope patterns for inspiration.

Crayon Offerings Today

School materials with pencils, crayons, eraser and stapler

There are many sizes of Crayola crayon boxes available today. Crayola makes packages as small as ones that hold just a few colors to massive 832 count boxes. The smaller packages are often found in restaurants where they hand them out to children in order to keep them occupied while waiting to eat. The largest boxes are found in schools. The colors offered in these collections range from only two shades to 200 unique colors. Packages that hold 200 colors will include special crayons like glitter crayons and neon colors.

When it comes to finding a box of Crayola crayons at your local retail store, you will notice that the size of the boxes fall somewhere in between these tiny packages and huge collections. Boxes will hold crayons in multiples of 8. For example, you will find them in collections of 4, 8, 16, 24, 48, 64, 96, or 120. The plastic telescope-like box came about in 2006. This collection encompassed 118 typical colors, 16 glitters, and 16 metallics. It also had a built-in sharpener. The 2013 carrying case was marketed with a 150 color set of crayons in addition to the standard Blue Bell and Piggy Pink.

Available Colors

Bottom side of crayons in many different colors

As Crayola’s boxes grew bigger, their color choices also grew. By 1998 you could find 120 different colors in their collection. Since then, Crayola has developed new colors, but these new shades always replace an existing color. In all, Crayola has offered 170 color varieties, but 50 of them are now retired. You won’t find glitter crayons or metallics within these 120 colors, but that number does include their fluorescent crayons.

An example of how a color is replaced is Bluetiful. Crayola announced that they would retire Dandelion in March of 2017. By September, they were introducing Bluetiful. You can find the retired crayons on display at the Crayola Hall of Fame in Easton, Pennsylvania.

As of 1903, an eight pack of Crayola crayons included the following colors.

  • Red #ED0A3F
  • Orange #FF8833
  • Yellow #FBE870
  • Green #3AA655
  • Blue #0066FF
  • Violet #732E6C
  • Brown #AF593E
  • Black #000000

As of 1930, a 16 count box of Crayola crayons included the above mentioned eight colors along with the following.

  • Carnation Pink #FFA6C9
  • Red-Orange #FF681F
  • Yellow-Orange #FFAE42
  • Yellow-Green #C5E17A
  • Blue-Green #0095B7
  • Blue-Violet #6456B7
  • Red-Violet #BB3385
  • White #EDEDED

Up until October of 2017, a 24 pack of Crayola crayons contained the above mentioned 16 colors along with the following.

  • Violet-Red #F7468A
  • Scarlet #FD0E35
  • Green-Yellow #F1E788
  • Cerulean #02A4D3
  • Dandelion #FED85D
  • Indigo #4F69C6
  • Apricot #FDD5B1
  • Gray #8B8680

Crayola continues to expand its color options. Many times it will reflect a current issue that many people are concerned with. In 2020, they created a new line that they call “Color of the World.” At a time when equality is so important to so many people, they offered this collection as a reflection of the 40 skin tones found in the world. This same collection labeled their colors in French and Spanish as well as English.

A Cultural Icon

Kids hand drawing with house and sun made using blue, yellow and red crayons

Crayola crayons have made such an impact on culture that they are recognized by many notable sources. An original 64 box set of crayons can be found in the Smithsonian among a collection of 300 other boxes of Crayola crayons. They have also been featured on popular children’s programs such as Mister Rogers and Sesame Street. In fact, Mr. Rogers himself molded the 100 billionth crayon. They even made it on a postage stamp in 1998.

The colorful history of Crayola crayons doesn’t end here. Crayola is a company that is still going strong. From the youngest creators to professional artists such as Don Marco, Crayola continues to provide those of all ages with a wonderful way to express themselves through a variety of beautiful crayon colors.