Crayola is pretty deeply embedded in popular culture. In one study, 99 percent of polled households recognized the brand name. Despite the occasional drywall and nostril mishaps, Crayola has remained a childhood staple for more than 100 years, fostering creativity and keeping children calm in theme restaurants the world over. In honor of National Crayon Day (today), check out these 13 facts about secret ingredients, fine art, and how to plan your next vacation around the world's biggest crayon.
1. THAT DISTINCTIVE CRAYON SMELL? IT’S BEEF FAT.
In a 1982 study conducted by Yale University Professor William Cain, Crayola crayons were among the top 20 smells most frequently identified by subjects. That unique odor is created in large part by stearic acid, which is a derivative of beef tallow—more commonly known as beef fat. The ingredient is used to deliver a waxy consistency.
2. THE FIRST BOXES WERE SOLD DOOR-TO-DOOR.
Crayons are believed to have been invented in the 1880s, but manufacturers Binney & Smith are credited with popularizing them: sensing they wouldn’t have long-term appeal with artists because of poor paper adhesion, the company decided to market to children and educators. The first eight-packs of Crayolas in 1903 were sold door-to-door for a nickel. That “Gold Medal” logo on the packaging? That refers to a win at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis for the company’s dustless chalk innovation. Jack Daniel won the same award that year for his booze.
3. EACH CRAYON USED TO BE HAND-ROLLED.
Most people assume the Crayolas of today are wrapped in their distinctive labels via industrial machinery, and they would be correct. But for the company’s first 40 years, no such technology existed. Employees (and farm families) had to hand-roll each label. Luckily, carpal tunnel syndrome hadn’t been invented yet, either.
4. THE AMERICAN GOTHIC ARTIST ENTERED A CRAYOLA CONTEST.
American Gothic is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, and its artist might be indebted to Crayola. When Grant Wood was just 14 years old, he took third place in a Crayola-sponsored drawing contest that offered up to $600 in prizes. Wood would later say placing in the contest inspired him to continue his art career.
5. ONE OF THEIR TOP EMPLOYEES WAS COLORBLIND.
Emerson Moser was with Crayola for 35 years before he decided to let the press in on a fun fact: he was colorblind. The diagnosis came during a company physical in 1953; Moser said his colorblindness wasn't severe, but he did have trouble discerning between slight variations in colors. He molded over 1.4 billion crayons for the company before retiring in 1990. Crayola asked him to donate his wax-covered work boots for their Hall of Fame.
6. THEY USED TO SMELLED GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT.
Always looking to offer variety, Crayola released a line of food-scented crayons in 1994. Dubbed Magic Scent, the wax sticks came in coconut, cherry, and licorice. But by July 1995, Crayola had taken them off the market. Parents feared kids would eat them—and indeed, roughly 10 of them did. Despite that statistically insignificant number, Crayola changed the scents to be less appetizing. Brown, for example, went from smelling like chocolate to smelling like dirt. Because “kids love dirt,” a company spokesperson said.
7. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO USE THEM AS MAKE-UP.
In spring 2014, Crayola had to issue a statement warning consumers not to use their colored pencils as eyeliner. Why? Several beauty bloggers had promoted the utensils as a cheap alternative to expensive make-up. But the pencils have been approved for illustrative purposes only; none have been designed or tested to use on one’s face.
8. THEY SELL TOOTHPASTE, THOUGH.
How's that for a mixed message? Crayola partnered with GUM in 2013 to offer a line of multi-colored toothpastes shaped like crayons.
9. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO CREATE ART WITH THEM.
Artist Herb Williams is a Crayola loyalist, but not because he likes drawing with them. Williams buys the crayons in bulk and melts them down to create some dizzying, colorful sculptures. Some pieces have required up to 250,000 crayons, which means Williams actually has an account with the company. The White House was so impressed with his work that they commissioned several pieces for their permanent collection.
10. OPRAH GOT A CRAYON. (BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE THE CRAYON. AND YOU CAN’T HAVE THE CRAYON …)
In 2006, talk show host Oprah Winfrey invited Sally Putnam Chapman, a relative of founder Edwin Binney, on her show to discuss the storied history of Crayola. Not wishing to come empty-handed, Chapman gave Winfrey a 64-count box of an exclusive, one-time-only Crayola variation: "The Color Purple."
11. THEY ONCE HAD A BOOGER-SCENTED CRAYON.
If Crayola knows one thing, it’s kids. And if kids know one thing, it’s how to be gross. In 2006, the company launched a line of Silly Scents crayons and markers intended to appeal to the Garbage Pail Kids demographic. One crayon was dubbed the "Booger Buster"; another was called "Alien Armpit." Another, equally appealing offering from the line: a pencil sharpener that belched.
12. LEFTOVER CRAYONS ARE CALLED “LEFTOLAS.”
Kids and smokers have one thing in common: they’re not sure what to do once their object of choice is down to a nub. Crayons too small to grasp or too flat to draw with are usually cast aside for a fresh box. In 2002, the company debuted the Crayola Crayon Maker, which allowed children to create new crayons from their cast-offs using a 60-watt bulb, Easy-Bake Oven style.
13. “LEFTOLAS” WERE USED TO MAKE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST CRAYON.
During their 100th anniversary in 2003, Binney & Smith asked children around the country to send in their unwanted blue Leftolas. The mission: to create a crayon so big it would practically write its own press release. Crayola got the equivalent of 123,000 crayons, which they fused together to create Big Blue, a 1,500-pound monster that measured 15 feet long and was 16 inches in diameter. Crayola fanatics can visit the monstrosity at the Crayola Experience tour in Easton, Pennsylvania. Why blue? It happens to be Crayola’s most popular color. Eat it, Magenta!