14 Colorful Facts About Crayola

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

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. 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 Crayola crayon smell is 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 Crayola 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 Crayola 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 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 Crayola's top employees was colorblind. 

m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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. Crayola crayons used to smell 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 Crayola crayons 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. Crayola did 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 Crayola crayons. 

Herb Williams

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 her own Crayola 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. Crayola 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 Crayola 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 have been dubbed "Leftolas" by the company and 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. Crayola "Leftolas" were used to make the world's biggest crayon.

Crayola

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!

14. Crayola helped introduce a new shade of blue to the world.

In 2017, Crayola discontinued their Dandelion crayon to make room for a crayon in YInMn blue, a vibrant shade that had been discovered by chemists at Oregon State University in 2009. The color was a byproduct of some chemical mixing and was formulated by accident. It was dubbed YInMn for the elements included: yttrium, indium, manganese, and oxygen. Crayola named it Bluetiful.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.