Binney & Smith Inc. History
Easton, Pennsylvania 18042
Telephone: (610) 253-6271
Toll Free: 800-272-9652
Fax: (610) 250-5768
Incorporated: 1902 as Binney & Smith Co.
Sales: $600 million (1997)
SICs: 3998 Manufacturing of Art Supplies
While Binney & Smith Inc. is best known for its ubiquitous Crayola crayons, our company goes far beyond those familiar sticks of wax. We bring hands-on products to creative personal development and fun to consumers of all ages, at home, and away from home. Every product we make and sell reflects this mission. It is at the heart of our marketing and product development efforts. It is the driving force behind our commitment to education and the arts. It is our measurement for new business opportunities.
Binney & Smith Inc. (B&S) was incorporated in 1902 and in 1984 became a wholly owned subsidiary of privately held Hallmark Cards, Inc. B&S operates manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, England, Mexico, and Germany; the company also maintains sales and marketing facilities in these countries as well as in France, Spain, Singapore, Australia, Italy, and Germany. The Crayola name brand for colored crayons is the company's most widely known and recognized name in this country (98 of every 100 Americans know the name) and in more than 60 other countries abroad, from Iceland to Belize. Annually, B&S produces 120 shades of some two billion crayons, labeled in 12 different languages. All Crayola products are certified for nontoxicity by the Art & Creative Materials Institute. The Crayola brand has branched into the stationery segment with its markers, crayons, and chalk, into the arts and crafts category with its paint sets, and into a licensed interior paint category with its co-branded Benjamin Moore line of children's paints. Moreover, B&S offers other major brands among its products: namely, Liquitex, Silly Putty, Magic Marker, and Revell-Monogram. Liquitex brand art materials are known and respected worldwide as the technical leaders in fine artists' acrylic paints. Generations of children have played with Silly Putty; the Magic Marker brand is perhaps the best known name in markers for adults; for more than 50 years, modelers have chosen the Revell-Monogram brand for its high quality and attention to detail. B&S sees the visual arts as vital for teaching all subjects and is an avid supporter of arts-in-education initiatives around the country.
The Early Years: 1864-1902
Joseph W. Binney left England in 1860 for upstate New York, where he founded, in 1864, Peekskill Chemical Works for the grinding, packaging, and distribution of ground charcoal and lamp black. In 1880 he set up headquarters in New York City and was joined by his son Edwin Binney and his nephew C. Harold Smith. They were responsible for products in the black and red color ranges, such as lamp black, charcoal, and a red iron oxide paint often used to coat the barns in rural America. Joseph trained the young men in salesmanship for the various pigments and colors he developed. When Joseph retired in 1885, Edwin Binney and Harold Smith formed the partnership of Binney & Smith. Meanwhile, a new and valuable black pigment had been developed from natural gas deposits discovered during the oil rush in Pennsylvania. This pigment was more intensely black and stronger than any other pigment in use at the time; it soon became the main ingredient in printing ink, stove and shoe polish, marking inks, and black crayons. B&S played an active role in the development and production of carbon black from the factories that sprang up in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia when other natural gas deposits were discovered in those states. B&S sold the greater part of the total production of carbon black, bought an interest in some of the operations, and stayed in touch with many new methods of production.
Edwin Binney and Harold Smith proved to be complementary partners. Binney kept busy expanding the company's presence in the United States, developing new applications for carbon black and other pigments, and forming alliances that ensured the solid growth of the company. Binney also took care of the company's finances, thereby allowing Smith to exercise his talent as a master salesman. Smith traveled throughout most countries of the world to introduce the new American gas carbon and demonstrate its advantages over the local pigments in use during the 19th century for most of the paints, varnishes, and other protective finishes. The Chinese, for instance, collected the smoke and soot from the incomplete combustion of camphor leaves to make their stick inks and black lacquer finishes. By the end of the century, in China and in many other countries, practically all printing inks, polishes, and paints were made from the American black. B&S thrived and was incorporated in 1902 in Easton, Pennsylvania.
In 1900 B&S bought an old water-powered stone mill on Bushkill Creek, near Easton, Pennsylvania, and used the mill to grind the scrap slate from the region's quarries. The ground slate was mixed with additional materials to create a superior slate pencil. Distribution of the slate pencils introduced B&S to the needs and potential of the educational market; the company listened and responded to teachers' needs for better materials, especially for chalk that did not crumble and good, affordable colored crayons. In 1902 experiments at the Easton mill resulted in the production of An-Du-Septic, a white dustless chalk made by an extrusion process to "weight" dust particles. Two years later An-Du-Septic chalk won a gold medal at the St. Louis World Exposition. Meanwhile, an experiment consisting of mixing dry carbon black with various waxes led to replacing the company's Eclipse Marking Ink, a black liquid used on barrels and boxes, with trouble-free black crayons called Staonal (that is, "Stay-on-all"), because they worked well on many types of surfaces, such as wood and paper.
Successful sales of Staonal triggered experiments for another product: the colored wax crayons schoolteachers needed to replace the poor-quality crayons children were using in their one-room schoolhouses. Artists did have access to high-quality colored crayons but these were imported and far too expensive for children's use. B&S chemists, aware that most of the pigments available at the time were highly toxic, developed synthetic, nontoxic pigments to replace organic colors. Furthermore, the company wanted to match the color uniformity and consistency of fine imported crayons while keeping costs low. In 1903 B&S produced its first box of eight Crayola crayons (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black); the box sold for a nickel. Edwin Binney's wife, a former schoolteacher who recognized the significance of colored crayons in terms of child development, took particular interest in the new product. In fact, it was she who coined the name Crayola from craie (the French word for chalk or stick of color) and ola (from oleaginous, a word referring to the oily characteristic of liquid petroleum before it is distilled into the paraffin used for crayons). Thus B&S established itself in the avant-garde of suppliers for educational and artistic products.
Two Business Divisions: 1904-54
During the next half century the company added many new products. The various carbon blacks were increasingly in demand for more and more manufactured materials. This part of the business (later known as the Pigment Division) continued to be handled by the New York office; business that was to form the Crayon Division produced its items at Easton, but all sales were made from the New York office. The company's fortunes rose and ebbed with the conditions of the times--World War I, the 1920s postwar slump, the depression of the early 1930s--but gathered enough steam during the good times to sail through the bad times. It is noteworthy that during the Great Depression, and for many years after that, B&S hired local farm families to hand-label crayons to supplement their winter incomes.
For the Pigment Division, the highlight of this period was a 1911 request from Akron-based B.F. Goodrich Company for an annual supply of one million pounds of carbon. Why? In the early years of the automobile, tires were white because of the zinc oxide in the rubber compound. Goodrich, however, experimented with "Silvertown" tires brought from England and discovered that the tread rubber wore considerably longer than that of the older white tire. The London manufacturer said he used a small amount of B&S carbon black to give his tires a distinguishing gray tint. Goodrich experimented with tires containing varying amounts of No. 40 black mixed with rubber and found that increasing the amount of carbon bound the rubber particles together to a greater degree than ever known and considerably prolonged the life of the tire. B&S met the Goodrich challenge by forming the Columbian Carbon Company and fulfilled its contract in due time. The downside of dispersing carbon black into rubber in its dry state was that it created much dust, compared with the dust-free addition of carbon black to liquid bases, such as paints and inks. B&S technicians, however, developed and patented a formula for putting the black into the form of pellets and practically eliminated the dust.
The rapid development of many varieties of carbon black also spurred important advances in other industries. In the graphic arts, printing inks required the proper carbons for application to various new surfaces, such as highly finished papers, cellophane, and different plastic materials. Carbon black gave printing inks the special qualities needed for efficient operation at the rapid rate used to print modern newspapers. Furthermore, carbon black made it possible to develop the special lacquers required for automobiles. And carbon black was used for shading or tinting cement to eliminate the glare of an untreated finish.
While the Pigment Division was experiencing rapid growth, the Crayon Division was quietly learning how to produce a superior crayon for both the retail trade and the education field. The first Crayola crayons were made in 16 colors; the eight-stick box sold for five cents and the 16-stick box sold for ten cents. Crayola Rubens crayons for art students and Perma Pressed fine-art crayons that could be sharpened were added to the product line. A new Crayola 48-stick box introduced in 1949 featured new colors, such as bittersweet, burnt sienna, periwinkle, and prussian blue. Nine years later, prussian blue was renamed midnight blue in response to teachers' observations that students were no longer familiar with Prussian history. (Note: The small p was an intentional grammatical error to keep the word consistent with the way all Crayola crayon names appeared on labels. Tests had shown that words written in lowercase letters were easiest for elementary school children to read.) By 1955 B&S had placed some 464 different items on the market.
Crayola Takes Over: 1955-92
Sales in the Crayon Division increased steadily while the Pigment Division grew rapidly in size and products. Over the years the Pigment Division had relied more and more on the Columbian Carbon Company for carbon black, bone black, iron oxides, new inks, and other products that accompanied developments in the oil and gas fields. Columbian became much larger than B&S; it was one of the important U.S. corporations and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Wanting to own and direct its own sales activities, Columbian bought the B&S Dispersion Division and the Pigment Division in 1955. Consequently, B&S turned its attention to developing the business of the Crayola Division through relevant acquisitions and new products to carry out what it later identified as its unique mission: "to bring hands-on products for creative personal development and fun to consumers of all ages, at home and away from home."
In 1958 the Crayola 64-crayon box, which included 16 new colors and a built-in sharpener, makes its debut on the "Captain Kangaroo Show." According to B&S archives, this Crayola box "became part of the collective history and experiences of generations of Americans, and a symbol of the color and fun of childhood." Partially as a result of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, in 1962 Crayola changed its crayon color named flesh to peach, in recognition of the fact that not everyone's skin is the same shade. With the 1964 purchase of Permanent Pigments Inc., maker of Liquitex, B&S established its brand of fine art and decorative art supplies. As a world leader in acrylic paints, Liquitex provided artists with technically advanced, high quality, versatile products in a broad range of colors, textures, and media. Thirteen years later B&S acquired the manufacturing rights for Silly Putty, which had started as a wartime experimental replacement for rubber and became one of the world's best-loved toy classics. Craft and activity kits became a vital part of the company's business. Then, Hallmark Cards, Inc., the world's largest greeting card manufacturer and a privately owned corporation, in 1984 acquired B&S as a wholly owned subsidiary.
That same year marked the introduction of Crayola's Dream-Makers, an art education program for the nation's elementary schools. To the great delight of children, mothers, and teachers, in 1987 Crayola placed washable markers on the market. This event was followed by the 1989 acquisition of the manufacturing rights for the Magic Marker brand of markers. In 1990 eight Crayola crayons--maize, raw umber, lemon yellow, blue gray, orange yellow, orange red, green blue, and violet blue--were retired into the Crayola Hall of Fame in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Two years later Crayola showed its leadership in the development of art products that emphasized international diversity by launching Crayola My World multicultural crayons. The company hoped that by using crayons, markers, paints, and modeling compounds that reflected the variety of skin tones, children would build a positive sense of self as well as respect for cultural diversity. By 1992 Crayola crayons came in 80 colors.
Toward the 21st Century: 1993 and Beyond
To celebrate Crayola brand's 90th anniversary, in 1993 B&S offered 16 new colors in the largest assortment of crayons to date: the Crayola 96 Big Box. Departing from the Crayola tradition of having company color experts name the new shades, B&S asked the public to name the new colors. Until then, most Crayola crayon color names were taken from the U.S. Commerce Department's National Bureau of Standards book, Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names. Newspapers throughout the nation publicized Crayola's "Name the New Colors Contest." One of the goals was to have this new generation of 16 crayons indicate the insights and interests of a new generation of users.
From January through August 1993, nearly two million suggestions came in from crayonists young and old. Five-year-old Laura Bartolomei-Hill, who submitted razzmatazz for the raspberry-red crayon, was the youngest winner. The eldest winner was 89-year-old Mildred Sampson, who submitted purple mountain's majesty for a purple crayon. Many other names--such as pacific blue, tropical rain forest (blue-green), robin's egg blue, shamrock (green), wisteria (lavender), tumbleweed (tan), and timber wolf (gray)--reflected growing interest in the environment. Some names, such as tickle me pink and mauvelous (mauve, destined to become the favorite color of comedian Billy Crystal, who made a living out of "looking maahvelous"), connoted the fun associated with using crayons. Other names referred to foods: asparagus (green), granny smith apple (green), and macaroni and cheese for the orange color of cheddar cheese melting on macaroni. Another winning entry, cerise (the French word for cherry, bright red), exposed children to a foreign language, as did the name denim (blue), which acknowledged the French source (de Nîmes) of a fabric that remained popular. Soon thereafter, in 1993, Crayola acquired Revell-Monogram, a world leader in the manufacture of model kits, die-cast models, and modeling accessories. From authentically detailed military aircraft to striking replicas of classic cars, Revell-Monogram kits had been favorites of modelers around the world for 50 years.
Comforting memories of a childhood "color-full" rite of passage were rekindled for baby boomers everywhere when, in 1998, B&S celebrated the classic Crayola 64-crayon box's 40th anniversary by the reintroduction of the original packaging, complete with built-in sharpener and original package graphics. More than 185 million of these Crayola boxes had been sold since 1958; undeniably, the 64-crayon box was one of the most enduring and identifiable symbols of American youth culture. For instance, the company estimated that the average U.S. child wore down 730 crayons by age ten. And, in the same spirit, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History placed an actual 1958 Crayola 64-crayon box and an assortment of 20th century Crayola advertising in the permanent collection of the Division of Cultural History.
Another form of recognition occurred in February 1998 when the U.S. Postal Service included Crayola crayons in its "Celebrate the Century" program, which honored memorable and significant people, places, events, and trends for each decade of the 20th century. The commemorative stamp depicted the original eight-count Crayola crayon box introduced in 1903.
As Binney & Smith approached its 100th anniversary in the 21st century, it had grown from its roots as a local supplier of pigment to a worldwide marketer of products to educate and entertain people of all ages. Judging from its uninterrupted, successful operation for nearly a century, there was reason to believe that the company would sensitize many more generations to the wonder of color and to the enjoyment of educational hobbies, crafts, and the fine arts.
- Cardona, Mercedes M., "Crayola Breaks Ad Effort To Target Parents' Nostalgia," Advertising Age, July 21, 1997, p. 35.
- Goldstein, Seth, "Hallmark Inks Kid Vid Deal," Billboard, February 22, 1997, pp. 8-10.
- Kitchel, A.F., The Story of the Rainbow, Easton, Penn.: Binney & Smith (company archives), 1961.
- Mehegan, Sean, "Brand Builders: The Color of Money," Brandweek, September 15, 1997, p. 22.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 25. St. James Press, 1999.