Thank heaven for a few things that never change. Periwinkle, burnt sienna and violet-red Crayola crayons are still with us, in their flip-top box, along with newfangled orchid, bittersweet, thistle. It's been that way since 1903 when Binney & Smith chalk salesmen noticed that children were using either expensive imported crayons or cheap, brittle American ones. Their researchers had figured out a better way of mixing pigments with wax. Enter Crayola crayons, named for the French "craie," or chalk, plus "ola" for the oil from which wax comes. A six-stick box costs about a nickel, and the company's first-year profit was less than $10. But things got better.
"We won't relax the criteria for a good crayon," says Crayola's Rosemarie Mandarino. "Crayons shouldn't be brittle enough to break or soft enough to bend. Children radiate a lot of heat from their little fists. Our pigment content doesn't vary either. When our raw materials change, we adjust the formula to compensate, but we try very hard to maintain quality."
There are Crayola paints and markers now, boxes with crayon sharpeners, and fluorescent colors to horrify the purists. Prussian blue became midnight blue years ago, when teachers noted that their pupils had no idea what a Prussian was. But the old colors do have advocates. One boy reported that his rabbit chewed up a spring green crayon, apparently mistaking it for his daily lettuce.
Crayola crayons. $2.36 for a 48-crayon box. At toy stores, drugstores, everywhere you look.