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Smith, C. Harold - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: C. Harold Smith, Social and Economic Impact

crayons crayola binney company

Binney & Smith


In 1885 C. Harold Smith founded a company with his cousin, Edwin Binney. First producing industrial pigments, they gravitated toward educational supplies and developed the world famous Crayola crayon which is used worldwide and is considered by some to be an important piece of Americana.

Personal Life

C. Harold Smith was born in London, England in 1860 and lived for a while in New Zealand as a teenager until coming to the United States in 1878. He married Paula Smith and they had two children, Bertha B. Hillas and Sidney V. Smith. Harold Smith was known for being outgoing. He established business friendships all over the world while traveling, a pastime he enjoyed. He kept notes on his traveling, and used this in his later years in his writing. He wrote several fictional and philosophical books which aroused interest from the public, particularly his autobiography which gave a glimpse of his personal philosophy. He had an interest in philanthropy and organized discussions to pursue charitable actions. He was involved in civic organizations such as the Union League Club of New York, the Transportation Club, the Uptown Club, and the Hudson River Country Club. He died in 1931 at 71 years of age.

Career Details

Smith first became interested in the carbon industry when he arrived in the United States of America in 1878. He spent the next several years acquiring knowledge of the industry and accumulating the capital to found his company. Smith was respected in the business community for his solid base of technical knowledge and was nicknamed “The Carbon King.” He founded Binney & Smith with Edwin Binney in the late 1800s.

The opportunity to start up Binney & Smith originated with Edwin Binney’s father, Joseph, who had founded the Peekskill Chemical company in New York during 1864. The company produced black and red pigments for industrial uses such as coloring tires and barns.

Edwin Binney and his cousin, Smith, formed a partnership and took over the company in 1885. Binney & Smith increased the products they offered to include shoe polish and ink. In 1900 they moved offices to New York City and bought a stone mill in Pennsylvania to produce slate for pencils. They began to get a taste for the needs of educational institutions after offering the pencils and dustless chalk. The dustless chalk won Binney & Smith a gold medal at the St. Louis World Exhibit. While touring schools, Binney & Smith realized that schools needed coloring crayons that were affordable and safe. At the time, crayons were used primarily in industry. They were thick and hard to handle. The crayons were also toxic. Binney & Smith were working on wax crayons to be used to mark crates and barrels in their own factory. They took this crayon and began working to develop nontoxic pigments to color the wax. They produced their first eight pack of crayons in 1903. The debut product featured the colors Green, Black, Blue, Brown, Orange, Red, Purple, and Yellow at $.05 a pack. The name Crayola was coined by Binney’s wife (a teacher), and used a combination of the French words for stick of color, craie , and oily, ola . The crayons were a huge success.

In addition to expanding products and finding new markets, Smith went on to become involved in other related companies including: the Columbia Carbon Company where he served as vice president, L. Martin Company and Sebs Chemical Company where he served as president of both, and Peerless Carbon Company for whom he served as director.

During the Great Depression, Binney & Smith hired farm families in the local vicinity to assist with crayon production. The families drew the labels for the crayons; each family taking a different color. Soon each farm became associated with their particular Crayola color. The company continued to employ farm families after the Depression, which helped farmers supplement their yearly income during slow times.

Product safety had always been an issue for Binney & Smith, particularly for crayons which previously had been toxic and unsafe for children. The company stayed abreast of safety issues and in 1936 founded the Crayon, Watercolor, and Craft Institute which promoted the production of safe art materials.

Binney & Smith continued to add color to its crayon palate to reflect changing times in society. The name of the flesh crayon, for instance, was changed in 1962 to peach to acknowledge that not everyone had the same skin color. In 1949, a 48 color box was offered to consumers, which included the colors Bittersweet and Prussian Blue. A 64 color box hit the market in 1958, and included the addition of a built-in sharpener.

Representative of the times, florescent crayons were introduced in 1972 including colors like Atomic Tangerine, Hot Magenta, Blizzard Blue, and Shocking Pink. In 1978 the company diversified further and added Crayola markers, a product that could be washed from skin and clothes if needed. Less popular crayon colors were dropped in 1990 including Green Blue, Orange Yellow, Maize, and Lemon Yellow. 1992 saw the additional of Crayola multicultural crayons, which included a variety of skin tones. In 1993 the company commemorated 90 years of producing crayons by introducing a Big Box, which included 96 colors. Sixteen of these were new colors which customers had been asked to name; some of the names included: Denim, Macaroni and Cheese, Tickle Me Pink, and Tumbleweed.

Chronology: C. Harold Smith

1860: Born.

1878: Emigrated to United States of America.

1885: Binney & Smith Company founded.

1902: Won gold medal at St. Louis World Exhibition for dustless chalk.

1903: Introduced first box of crayons.

1931: Died.

1936: Binney & Smith Company founded the Crayon, Watercolor, and Craft Institute.

1978: Binney & Smith Company introduced Crayola markers.

1996: 100 billionth crayon produced.

1998: Company opened 20,000 square foot Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania.

In 1996, The Crayola Factory opened at Two Rivers Landing in Easton, Pennsylvania. The building totaled 20,000 square feet and offered a family discovery center with creative activities. The opening was celebrated as ColorJam 96 .

Social and Economic Impact

Since their invention, Crayola crayons have been instrumental in educational settings and have helped encourage children to express themselves and use their creativity. The colors in the Crayola box at any given time have been reflections of the times. The addition of new colors highlighted the multicultural diversity found in America. By 1998, 104 colors were available for Crayola consumers and more than 2 billion crayons were produced each year. According to a December 1996 article in the Los Angeles Times, the average American kid in the United States had used up 730 crayons by the time he or she reached the age of 10.

By 1998, Binney & Smith continued to do business worldwide and employed over 2,600 workers. Its annual sales in 1996 peaked at $524 million, including crayons and other items produced. Crayola remained the leader in the United States crayon industry, capturing more than 50 percent of the $130 million American crayon market.

The producers of Crayola crayons continued to expand into new markets to reflect changing needs and desires of their target markets. In 1997, Crayola introduced the Crayola Magic 3D Coloring Book, a CD-ROM package for children which allowed them to color on the computer. In 1995, the company created a line of nine new greeting cards featuring designs submitted by kids and drawn with Crayola crayons, markers, or pencils.

Binney & Smith continued to look for ways to maximize profits and in 1997, closed a Crayola plant in Winfield, KS and moved operations to the existing plant in Easton, PA. The Kansas plant, owned by Hallmark Cards, had provided 345 jobs and local residents were angered for their aburpt decision. Crayola officials claimed that a previous attempt to automate operations in the Kansas plant had not proven as profitable as expected and that closing the plant would result in $8-$9 million in savings annually. The company offered employees the option to relocate and keep their jobs or to receive other benefits such as job training. Regardless, the Kansas plant had provided an $18 million payroll for the town and had bought in additional tourist dollars with 10,000 visitors a year.

Some collectors considered Crayola crayons a piece of American culture and history. In 1998, The U.S. Postal Service featured a stamp, as part of its Celebrate the Century series which pictured a vintage box of Crayolas. Some stamp collectors objected to the use of a commercial product on collectable stamps, arguing that the integrity of the stamps would be compromised if every famous American product were featured on stamps.

Vintage Crayola crayons and their containers have become valuable collectibles. In 1998, a cylindrical box of Crayolas from the 1970s was worth from $15 to $35. In assigning value, collectors considered not only the authenticity and condition of the container, but the condition of the crayons, which are relatively fragile over time. Crayons that have withstood the elements over time commanded a higher price as collectibles. The Smithsonian Institute also recognized Crayola crayons as historically significant in 1998. The Institute added several Crayola products, including the 64-color box of crayons, to its permanent collection. Since Binney and Smith first introduced Crayolas in 1903, the crayons have been a symbol of childhood creativity in the United States.

Smith, Frederick - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Frederick Smith, Social and Economic Impact [next] [back] Smith, Bonnie G. (1940–) - European History

User Comments

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over 5 years ago

Who are the children of Sidney Smith,C. Harold Smiths son??

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over 6 years ago

The "C" stands for Charles. :)

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almost 7 years ago

what does the "C" in C. Harold Smith stand for?

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over 6 years ago

Were did Harold Smith live ,what is his address?

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12 days ago

Bertha B. Hillas and Sidney V. Smith