Origin of ordinary things: Crayons

Crayola crayons created wax crayons. / Net photo.

Crayons are sticks of coloured wax, charcoal, chalk or some other material used for drawing and colouring.

They are also relatively soft and blunt and because all of that, perfect for little children who cannot hurt themselves with them nor make too much of a mess. At the same time, student and professional artists also use crayons because they come in variety of colors, produce interesting textures and are easy to use.

The first crayons appeared in Europe and were made with charcoal. One source says that Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, described the first techniques of drawing with wax crayons. Pastels were used by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495.

Artists used “conté crayons” — something between a pastel and a standard crayon — since the late 1790s. In 19th Century other pigments appeared and Jane Austen mentioned crayons in her “Pride and Prejudice” in 1813. Joseph Lemercier of Paris manufactured and sold a variety of crayon and colour related products. At the same time in Europe was found a method of substituting wax with oil which makes the crayons harder and less likely to melt. This is according to History of Pencils.

According to SoftSchools, wax crayons were invented by the Crayola Company. It was formed in 1864, but it was not called Crayola. The company was founded by Joseph Binney, and then his son Edwin Binney and nephew Harold Smith joined. The company made many different products used for painting and drawing. They made pencils for school children, and they created ‘dustless chalk’ for school teachers in 1902.

In 1903, the company saw a need for school children to have safe, affordable wax crayons. One of the first packages was sold in 1903. It had eight colours. Alice, the wife of Edwin Binney came up with the name Crayola. The French word for color is “craie.” These wax crayons had colour, and they were also slick. The word ‘oleaginous’ means slick or oily. So, the wax crayons were called Crayold-slick, oily colors.

Today, school children still use crayons. In fact, most school supply lists for young children list crayons as a necessary supply. Crayons are safe for children to use. Teachers also like them because they are much less messy than chalks, paints, or watercolours. Before crayons were invented, children coloured with watercolors, paints, or even chalk and charcoal. There are probably many teachers who are very happy that Binney and Smith created Crayola crayons all those years ago.


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