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Binney, Edwin - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Edwin Binney, Social and Economic Impact

smith black carbon company

(1866-1934)
Binney & Smith Inc.

Overview

A pioneer in the manufacture of carbon black, EdwinBinney was a founder of Binney & Smith, better known today for its Crayola products used by millions of children. Smith’s innovations made black automobile tires, electric light carbons, and many other technological advances possible. He was also active in many natural gas companies, was instrumental in the development of parts of the state of Florida, and was a noted philanthropist.

Personal Life

Born at Shrub Oak, Westchester County, New York, Smith was a son of Joseph Walker and Annie Eliza (Conklin) Binney. His father was an English stockbroker who emigrated to the United States in 1860, later founding an early lamp black factory near Peekskill, New York. Smith went to work at an early age and attended public schools in Peekskill and New York City.

On October 16, 1887, in Brooklyn, New York, he married Alice Stead of London, England, with whom he had four children: Dorothy, Helen (whose husband, Allan Kitchel, succeeded Binney as president of Binney & Smith), Mary, and Edwin Jr. Binney enjoyed spending time in the state of Florida, where he owned large orange groves in St. Lucie County. He was an important force in the opening of the east coast port of Ft. Pierce in 1930. He enjoyed deep sea cruising, fishing, hunting, and designing sail and motor boats.

Binney was known not only for his impeccable business sense but also for his integrity and good will. During the Depression of the 1930s, for example, Binney & Smith gave destitute local farmers work hand-labeling boxes of crayons, a tradition that continued for many years. While his partner Smith spent much of his time traveling and selling, Binney was known as a quiet man who used his time to diversify the company at home. Binney died in Gainesville, Florida, on December 17, 1934, while visiting a grandson at the University of Florida.

Career Details

Following his father’s lead, Binney also became associated with the carbon black and lamp black business in Wellsville, New York. For a time he was a traveling salesman for a paint company. He later joined his cousin Charles Harold Smith in a very successful firm which manufactured lamp and carbon black for paint, printing ink, oil cloth, and enameled leather. Later developments included the manufacture of carbon black for stove and shoe polishes, coloring paper, pencils and crayons, and ink for high-speed printing presses. By the first part of the nineteenth century, Binney and Smith had reorganized into the Pigment Division (for carbon black and related products) and the Crayon Division. The Pigment Division introduced carbon black as an ingredient for reinforcing rubber automobile tires and as a component of electric light carbons. Later introduced was a superior version of hydrocarbon gas black, which was manufactured in Pennsylvania.

In 1902 the firm of Binney & Smith was officially incorporated with main offices in New York City and subsequent branch offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cleveland and Akron, Ohio; London; Paris; and Copenhagen. In Easton, Pennsylvania, Binney & Smith bought a water-powered stone mill to begin extracting the area’s large slate supplies. The slate was used to make school pencils. The company also manufactured school and industrial crayons, blackboards, and dry colors. Binney & Smith also introduced dustless school chalk and improved their school crayons by adding color pigments and making them smaller than their industrial counterparts. The name “Crayola” was created by Edwin Binney’s wife Alice, who combined the French word craie (chalk) with ola (oleaginous—for the petroleum-based paraffin in the crayons). The first box contained eight pieces and sold for five cents.

Binney and Smith exchanged the presidency and vice-presidency of their company each year until Smith died in 1931, when Binney took over the presidency and held it until his death. In 1914 along with Smith, Charles Henry Heim, Felix Frederick Curtze, and Nathaniel Burrows Bubb, Binney negotiated the consolidation of seven carbon black companies into one, the Columbian Carbon Company. Until his death, Binney served as voting trustee, vice-president, and director of the company, which was important to the development of the natural gas industry.

Binney was also, at various times, president of the Ft. Pierce (FL) Financing and Construction Company, Sebs Chemical Company, and Teton Gas Products Company; vice-president and director of the Coltexo Corporation, the Peerless Carbon Black Company and other carbon companies, Southern Gas Line, Inc., Piney Oil & Gas Company, and other oil and gas companies.

Binney was a philanthropist whose most notable donation was Binney Park in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, where he maintained a family home. The park was constructed on former swamp land and included expansive, landscaped green areas as well as a lake. The city later enlarged the park by purchasing additional acreage. The Binney family was also responsible for the construction of a parish house adjoining the First Congregational Church in Old Greenwich.

Binney was a member of many professional and civic organizations, including the Sons of the American Revolution, the Natural Gas Association, the Yachtsmen’s Association of America, the New York Zoological Society, the Navy League of the United States, the Riverside (CT) Yacht Club, the Innis Arden Golf Club (Old Greenwich, CT), and the Congressional Country Club (Washington, D.C.).

Chronology: Edwin Binney

1866: Born.

1882: Began work with Charles Harold Smith in lamp and carbon black manufacture.

1885: Entered firm of Binney & Smith.

1887: Married Alice Stead.

1902: Binney & Smith incorporated.

1914: Created Columbian Carbon Company.

1920: Became president of Columbian Carbon.

1930: Became president of Binney & Smith.

1930: Port of Ft. Pierce, Florida, opened.

1934: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

Today, the name Binney & Smith is almost entirely associated in the public’s mind with Crayola drawing and art supplies. No school child begins a new school year without a box of Crayola crayons, packed in boxes with as many as 96 assorted colors. In February, 1998, the 40th birthday of the 64-crayon box was celebrated with the reintroduction of the original packaging and the donation of memorabilia to the Smithsonian Institution. More than 100 billion crayons have been manufactured at the company’s plant in Easton, Pennsylvania, with over 2,600 people employed in its worldwide operations. Packaging is printed in over a dozen languages.

Edwin Binney’s original vision, however, was not to create art supplies but to provide improved uses for common substances. He learned techniques for making better lamp black (the product of burning liquid hydrocarbons such as kerosene) and carbon black (the product of incomplete combustion of natural gas), which were both in high demand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Carbon black in particular became indispensable to the manufacture of automobile tires and thus boomed in sales as more and more cars crowded early highways. B.F. Goodrich Company was the first to change its traditionally white tires to black, discovering that the carbon black made the tires more durable. Binney also supervised the refinement of lamp black to make carbons for electric lights with less than two percent ash, thus making electrification more accessible to millions of Americans.

Binney was a major force, moreover, in the development of natural gas and gasoline resources. Binney & Smith at one time was the largest producer of natural gas in the United States, selling it to industries all over the world.

In addition, at a time when the state of Florida was becoming a mecca not only for tourists but also for permanent residents and businesses, Binney participated in development efforts there. He was a director of the Ft. Lucie County Bank and also chairman of the board of the Fort Pierce Port Commission. He contributed substantial funding for the opening of the Ft. Pierce harbor, which became the only port at that time for the more than 300 miles between Miami and Jacksonville, and later erected a large storage facility at Ft. Pierce to house citrus fruits awaiting shipping.

In short, Edwin Binney seemed to be in the right places at the right times with the right products and ideas, in a period when America saw no limits to its economic expansion. Much more than just the developer of the popular Crayola, Binney was an entrepreneur whose vision encompassed the economic possibilities of a growing nation.

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