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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.