Edwin Binney and Harold Smith: American Creative Entrepreneurs

Edwin Binney and Harold Smith: American Creative Entrepreneurs
Updated date:
Apr 22, 2022

Table of Contents

Imagine a world without color, a world in black and white. 

The invention of color gives an extra edge to history’s rise of art. Color shaped our lives in social, historical, and evolutionary signals of the color spectrum. When you look at art in museums, people respond to how their visuals communicate–emotions.

There is no questioning the connection between colors and our emotions, and we even have idioms to explain how each color may alter your mood.

Are you seeing red?

Are you green with envy?

Do you ever feel blue?

Is your world black and white?

It can be as simple as peering out the window at a patch of green for a few minutes or wearing something bright on a gloomy day. The first may help you relax or refocus, while the latter may provide you with an energy boost on a day when you would otherwise be exhausted.

Colors impact us on several levels; on special occasions, we grieve in black and wear white, mainly in the summer, but our reaction is also personally affected by how this hue is presented in our own life. Color's history has been continuous discovery, whether through exploration or scientific progress.

The discovery of new pigments paralleled the development of art history's major trends, from the Renaissance to Impressionism, when painters experimented with colors and shades never seen before in the history of painting.

Artists created the first pigments 40,000 years ago, a mix of dirt, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and chalk, producing a primary spectrum of five colors: red, yellow, brown, black, and white.

Fast forward to the 21st century, access to colors is now available in many materials. From textiles, ceramics, metal, plastic, even lead and paint–liquified pigments in oil to crayons–solidified pigments in wax.

Crayons

But who is the genius behind the creation of colored clay sticks?

The first people to establish a reputation for making high-quality and chemical-free crayons that were completely safe for children were Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith.

Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith

The Beginning

"I went outside the lines."

Almost everyone alive today used crayons to make their first colorful squiggles and uttered the words above to your primary school teachers or your parents. Do you remember when you would feel smug owning a box of 120 crayons? Our pride is still true to its day.

Coloring and drawing are more than just owning a box of them. It nurtures fine motor abilities, enhances focus, and develops creativity.

The act of coloring can aid in developing a child's motor abilities. Holding the pencil correctly and learning to grip appropriately for control while color helps build their young hand muscles and also aids in grasp coordination and muscular strength necessary for other activities.

Crayola has been a massive part of school-age children, parents as they buy school supplies, and even adult artists in the field of artistry. But have you wondered who invented Crayola and the humble beginnings of Crayola’s big name that it is today? History time!

Thanks to Edwin Binney and Harold Smith, these color pioneers helped color our childhood, nurture our physical abilities, and shape the imagination we developed into good creativity.

Binney and Smith, now Crayola LLC, sprang out of a pigment-making chemical firm. The business was founded in 1864 in Peekskill, New York, by Joseph W. Binney. When he retired, his son and nephew took over the company and renamed it Binney & Smith.

Joseph's son, Edwin Binney (1866-1934), was born in Shrub Oak, New York. When his son came of age and graduated high school in 1883, Edwin joined his father's business. About the same period, C. Harold Smith (1860-1931), another of Joseph's nephews, joined the company.

C. Harold Smith was born in England in 1860 and spent his adolescence in New Zealand before moving to the United States in 1878. When Smith first arrived in the United States of America in 1878, he got interested in the carbon business.

When did Edwin Binney and Harold Smith invent Crayola Crayons?

First Job Ventures

Joseph Binney retired in 1885. Around the same time, Edwin and Harold established a partnership, and we're delighted to take over the company and rename it Binney & Smith.

What were Edwin Binney's initial products? They were already in the color-making business. Binney & Smith manufactured red oxide pigment for barn paint and carbon black for vehicle tires. They also sold lamp black and white chalk.

They were among the first to tackle the centuries-old puzzle of producing natural dark black. The solution was to use premium carbon black. Binney & Smith loves to take credit for figuring out how to make it cheaply.

The business received a gold medal for its carbon black demonstration at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

An-Du-Septic Chalk

Spoiler alert: Chalk was necessary to be made for them to invent crayons. How? An-Du-Septic Chalk–what is it?

Schoolchildren had their slates (little two-sided blackboards) around the turn of the twentieth century since paper was expensive and scarce.

The pupils wrote on the tablets with slate pencils, and the softer the pencil, the better. Slate pencil marks are remarkably similar to chalk marks and can be easily wiped away with a cotton cloth–or even a sleeve.

Smith began listening for what else teachers wanted as Binney & Smith grew more familiar with the school market. Two requests repeatedly resurfaced: dust-free chalk and inexpensive wax crayons for kids to use in their artwork.

In Pennsylvania, Binney's team kept exploring. They discovered that adding cement and talc (from a mine near Easton) to slate debris resulted in dustless chalk. They eventually came up with An-Du-Septic chalk, dustless chalk, which Binney dubbed An-Du-Septic chalk.

An-Du-Septic Chalk

At the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, the Binney & Smith chalk won a gold medal. It was well-received by teachers, who were relieved to no longer have to use chalk that left a residue on their fingers.

After success with dustless chalk, they ventured into another art invention that surpassed timeless use. Working with his wife, Alice Stead Binney, Edwin Binney developed his famous product line of wax crayons beginning on June 10, 1903.

Alice Binney, a former teacher, is credited with inventing the Crayola brand name used to market the crayons. 

Fun fact: French meaning for chalk

Birth of Chemical-Free Crayon–Crayola Brand

Many firms entered the wax crayon industry before Binney & Smith, including pencil companies looking for a boost in sales. Because there were few national magazines in which to promote the educational market, each corporation had to carve out a niche for itself.

Birth of Chemical-Free Crayon–Crayola Brand
Original First Eight colors of the Crayola Crayons

Edwin Binney tasked his chemists with developing a chemical-free crayon. They introduced the Staonal (stay-on-all) marking crayon; permanent and waterproof wax crayons are excellent for marking cardboard, paper, wood, and aluminum.

Staonal marking crayons included ingredients that schoolchildren can handle regularly. By 1903, they were enthusiastic about their new product and released their first package of eight brightly colored crayons the same year.

Top Toy Retailers

More Crayons

The Crayola division kept expanding its product line. They eventually added colored pencils and markers, and the company now produces a wide range of craft supplies.

Crayons, on the other hand, have always been significant sellers. And they were aware of the growing interest in art instruction from the start (1903). They invented the Rubens-Crayola crayon for that more refined market.

More Crayons

Crayola expanded the box to contain 48 colors with "stadium seating" in 1949. And the famous 64-color box with a built-in sharpener was launched in 1958. The Big Box, which contained ninety-six hues, was introduced in 1993.

Binney & Smith bought the Munsell Color Company crayon product line in 1926, gaining 22 additional colors.

In 1939, Crayola released its greatest color assortment product, a No. 52 Drawing Crayon 52 Color Assortment, which was discontinued by the 1944 price list for merging its current crayon colors with Munsell colors.

Crayola then launched the Crayola No. 48 in 1949, which contained 48 color crayons in a non-hangable floor box.  Further expansion occurred in 1958 with the introduction of the 64-color pack, which included the company's first crayon sharpener built into the box.

In 1963, the corporation went public on the American Stock Exchange with the symbol BYS, and in 1978, it transferred to the New York Stock Exchange under the same symbol. 

Binney & Smith purchased the rights to Silly Putty, a flexible, bouncy silicon rubber compound, in 1977. Crayola markers debuted in 1978 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Crayola crayons.

Crayola's continued success led Hallmark Cards, a privately owned company, to acquire it in 1984. My First Crayola was released in 2011, catering to non-reading toddlers to help develop a better grip on motor skills.

Triangular crayons and flat-tipped markers are among the products supplied. Crayola introduced Color Escapes for adults in 2015 to assist people in relieving anxiety. The set comes with four collections: geometric, garden, natural, and kaleidoscope.

Other Ventures and Brands

Crayola teamed with Alliance Atlantis and Hallmark Cards' entertainment arm to release three direct-to-video adaptations of popular children's novels under the moniker Crayola Kids Adventures in August 1997. Just like its founders, continuous innovation is still its goal.

Crayola LLC manufactures a wide range of items under the Crayola brand name and its well-known crayons. Modeling clay, colored pencils, markers, inks, paints, coloring books, and artists' tools. These, like other Crayola products, are described as non-toxic and suitable for children to use.

Crayola has come a long way, and they have ventured into other niche tentacles of the business, such as:

1. Silly Putty

This is a silicone polymer children's toy that can be used for various applications. In 2001, Silly Putty was nominated for the National Toy Hall of Fame.

2. Portfolio Series

Marketed to artists and educators, Portfolio Series includes oil pastels, watercolors, color pencils, drawing pencils, and water-soluble acrylic paints.

3. Liquitex

Binney & Smith purchased the Liquitex business, a manufacturer of fine art supplies, in 1964 but sold it to the Colart company in 2000. 

4. Silly Scents

Silly Scents is a product line that includes scented crayons, markers, colored pencils, clay, and paint.

5. Staonal 

Staonal Marking Crayons, marketed as a general (non-coloring) use crayon for industrial uses, was invented in 1902 and is still in production as of 2018.

6. Scribble Scrubbie Pets

Scribble Scrubbie Pets are animal figurines that may be personalized by writing on them using washable markers. Using the Scribble Scrubbie Pets App, you can create different 'digital pets.'

Hallmark Cards Subsidiaries and Brands

Awards and Recognition

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Binney & Smith gave a 64-color box of Crayola crayons to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 1998, which started a collection of Crayola crayons.

More than 300 boxes of crayons have been added to the collection. The 64-color box was a watershed moment in the history of the Crayola crayon, according to curator David Shayt of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The National Toy Hall of Fame inducted Crayola Crayons in 1998 at The Strong in Rochester, New York. Binney & Smith reformed as Crayola LLC on January 1, 2007, to represent the company's number one brand.

National Toy Hall of Fame

Crayola has also been recognized in the media, featured in parts from the iconic children's shows Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Fred Rogers himself molded the official 100 billionth crayon in February 1996 at the Easton plant.

Crayola recognized by Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

In 2021, Crayola Crayons won the Creative Toy of the Year Awards. Following its award and recognition, Crayola developed a new series of 24 colors called Colors of the World in 2020 to mirror roughly 40 skin tones worldwide. 

National Toy Hall of Fame Original Inductees

Legacy and Cultural Impact

Legacy and Cultural Impact

Binney and Smith are known for founding Binney and Smith, now Crayola LLC. The company produces the best-selling crayons at a rate of 650 per minute, with a daily output of up to 13.5 million in 400 distinct colors.

The factory produces 3 billion Crayola crayons per year on average. According to Hoover's, the corporation has annual revenues of $750 million.

Commemorative postage stamp

The United States Postal Service produced a 32-cent postage stamp in 1998 to celebrate the product's cultural effect on nearly all Americans.

The stamp is from the 1900s decade sheet of the Celebrate the Century souvenir sheet series. It was created by Carl Herrman, drawn by Richard Waldrep, and printed by Ashton-Potter USA using the offset/intaglio method.

Crayola color census 2000

Crayola ran the Crayola Color Census 2000 campaign in 2000, asking Americans to vote for their favorite Crayola crayon color.

George W. Bush selected Blue Bell, Tiger Woods preferred Wild Strawberry, and Courteney Cox chose Red. Overall, Blue came in top, with Cerulean coming in second and Purple Heart in third.

Crayola Experience

The Crayola Experience, formerly known as the Crayola Factory, is located at 30 Centre Square in Easton, Pennsylvania, in Two Rivers Landing.

The Crayola Experience, which is open to the public, is a large, crayon-centric warehouse that includes events, a café, a store, attractions, some familiarizing customers, and Crayola's history with goods.

A discovery center was established to demonstrate the crayon-making process. There is also a Crayola Hall of Fame, which displays the retiring crayon hues. 

A Food Network episode of Dinner: Impossible featured the Crayola Experience. A dinner was hosted for 150 Crayola Experience employees to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 64-box of crayons.

Chef Michael Symon's challenge for this event was to produce an eight-course tasting menu in which all eight components had to match eight randomly picked Crayola crayon colors.

Celebrating 100 years of Crayola crayons, the Experience revealed "The World's Largest Crayon," a 15-foot-long crayon weighing 1,500 pounds, on October 11, 2003. The 16-inch-diameter blue gigantic crayon was built from unused crayon bits mailed in by children across the United States.

Fine art

Although Crayola crayons are targeted at children and amateur artists, some professional artists have specialized in embracing them as their primary medium.

Crayola crayon artist Don Marco, who uses construction paper and crayons, is a well-known crayon artist who has sold over a million reproductions of his original artwork. It isn’t just for kids; it is also for the young at heart.

Personal Life

Edwin and Harold had a colorful life.

Edwin Binney married Alice Stead Binney (1866-1960), a schoolteacher from London. Having four children with her, they raised Dorothy Binney, Helen Binney Kitchel, Mary, and Edwin Jr.

Their daughter Helen served in the Connecticut legislature four times. Their daughter Mary married a tree surgeon, James A.G. Davey. Edwin Jr., their son, was an international swimmer and a Yale professor.

Harold Smith married Paula Smith, and the couple had two children, Bertha B. Hillas and Sidney V. Smith. Friends knew Harold for his lively and vibrant personality. Harold loved traveling as a pastime, and traveling allowed him to make business friends worldwide. 

He took notes while traveling and utilized them subsequently in his work. Harold wrote several fictional and philosophical novels that piqued the public's curiosity, notably his autobiography, revealing a peek at his worldview.

He was interested in charity and held meetings to promote philanthropic activities. Harold was also a member of the Hudson River Country Club, the Transportation Club, the Uptown Club, and the New York Union League Club. He died at 71 in 1931.

Key Takeaways

Now, imagine a world in black and white. Edwin Binney and Harold Smith couldn’t have prevented art from evolving but imagine our children’s modern world without Crayola, only in lesser colors.

Thinking of colors is like thinking of endless possibilities, discovering fresh opportunities. They looked beyond what society needed and gave them a solution. We sometimes have to listen.

Both crayon entrepreneurs observed and supplied what the public demanded. As an entrepreneur navigating through the industry, it is easy to innovate things we think the market needs, but seldom do people genuinely listen to what the market needs. How? 

Crayola has a wealth of lessons that entrepreneurs, small businesses, and everyone may learn to pass with flying colors. 

1. Put your toes on the cliff's edge and jump off. 

People who can go to the brink, look over for opportunity, and take it are the ones that build businesses. People who take risks have a higher chance of succeeding.

2. Watch out for barking dogs. 

Keep an eye out for naysayers and people who have a negative attitude about you or your company, and ignore them. Customer feedback informs you whether your consumers are satisfied with the product or service.

Customers will grow disinterested in your services if they don't believe you are attempting to understand them. You can keep your finger on the pulse of your business by listening to customers.

3. Your masterpiece is never finished.

Things change and evolve all the time. Consider new strategies to develop your company regularly. You aren't moving forward if you aren't moving forward at all.

Like our featured founders, carry on! Sometimes we succeed; other times, we fail. But you know what? Cray’on! 

There's thinking outside the box, and then there's thinking outside the crayon box, the less well-known cousin of the expression. Look around our colorful world. What can you contribute outside our box?

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