Oil Field Crayons
The petroleum industry supplies America with an amazing variety of products that are often “hiding in plain sight.” For Binney & Smith Company, common oilfield paraffin changed the company’s destiny by coloring children’s imaginations.
Although they longed for color, students in Alice Stead Binney’s classroom had to settle for dustless chalk. An-Du-Septic dustless chalk was so popular among turn-of-the-century teachers that it won a Gold Medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Teachers like Alice loved the tidy new product, but their choices were limited. Pencils of the day were primitive, with square “leads” made from a variety of clays, slates, and graphite. Color writing implements were the toxic and expensive imports of artists, best kept away from schoolchildren.
Alice’s husband Edwin, and his cousin, C. Harold Smith, created the award-winning An-Du-Septic chalk as a consequence of expanding their pigment business into the sideline production of slate pencils for schools. In Easton, Pennsylvania, the Binney & Smith Company (formerly Peekskill Chemical Works) was best known for its production of red iron oxide and carbon black for paints, inks, and stove and shoe polishes.
Carbon Black & Paraffin Crayons
The Binney & Smith 1891 patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black” detailed production of the fine, soot-like substance that was more intensely black than any other pigment in use at the time.
The booming Pennsylvania petroleum industry supplied oil and natural gas feedstock for the company’s carbon black, which would win an award at the 1900 Paris Exposition.
Binney & Smith mixed their carbon black with oilfield paraffin and other waxes to introduce a paper-wrapped black crayon marker for crates and barrels. It was promoted as being able to “stay on all” and accordingly named Staonal. The popular product is still sold today.
Staonal was a success, but too laden with carbon black to be safe for use by children. Slate pencils and the very successful An-Du-Septic dustless chalk nonetheless put Binney & Smith salesmen into America’s classrooms. The sales force listened to teachers and learned there would be a ready market for inexpensive, non-toxic, brightly colored crayons.
By 1903, Binney & Smith was ready to launch a new product that would change childhood forever. Alice Binney provided the historic name by combining the French word for chalk, craie with an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous — Crayola®.
Manufacturing was based on small batches of carefully measured and hand-mixed pigments, paraffin, talc and other waxes. Paper labels were individually rolled by hand and pasted onto each crayon. The finished products were hand packed into individual boxes and shipped in wooden crates. Sixteen Crayola crayons sold for 10 cents; eight for 5 cents: red, yellow, orange, green, blue, violet, black, and brown. Crayola was an instant hit.
The company’s proprietary formulas remain a closely guarded secret as demand for its crayons has continued to grow around the world. Paraffin from distant petroleum refineries is now delivered to Crayola’s Easton, Pennsylvania, factory in railroad tank cars. Production capacity is more than four million crayons every day.
Crayola has grown to become a $500 million dollar a year business — a successful union of the petroleum industry to the colorful world of children’s imaginations.
On January 1, 2007, Binney & Smith™, maker of Crayola® crayons and markers, became Crayola LLC in recognition of the company’s number one brand. The company is now known as Crayola.
“This organizational and name change showcases the company’s Crayola brand, sold by Binney Binney & Smith since 1903,” explains the company, which operates a museum in Easton. “The Crayola name has 99 percent recognition among U.S. consumer households, is sold in more than 80 different countries and represents innovation, fun, kids and quality.”
Editor’s Note – In 1912, Binney & Smith’s carbon black is used for the first time to make black tires…
Carbon Black Hits the Road
Bankrupt Philadelphia hardware merchant and erstwhile inventor Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped rubber and sulfur on a hot stovetop in 1839. The rubber charred like leather yet remained elastic, a discovery that led to “vulcanization.”
With the new process, natural rubber could be transformed into an industrial product with innumerable uses. Goodyear’s famous lawyer, Daniel Webster, proclaimed of his client’s invention, “It introduces quite a new material into the manufacture of the arts, that material being nothing less than elastic metal.”
Automobile tires were the ideal application for this new product. Between 1895 and 1905, more than 77,000 new automobiles were registered in the United State. The maxi-mum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph, and automobile tires were white. Natural rubber pigments and zinc oxide used in the manufacturing process gave tires their color.
In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company found that adding “carbon black” to the vulcanizing process dramatically improved strength and durability.
Carbon black, which looks like soot, is produced by controlled combustion of petroleum products, both oil and natural gas. Its use in tires created an immense market – initially consuming one pound of carbon black for each two pounds of rubber.
As the automobile industry grew, so did demand for tires and for carbon black. By 1931, Texas was producing more than 200 million pounds of carbon black annually from just 31 plants – 75 percent of America’s total. Substantial quantities of carbon black were used in the manufacture of pigments, inks, and paints.
Today, most of America’s carbon black is still produced in Texas and Louisiana. Demand remains closely associated with automobile tires. Cabot Corp., founded in Pennsylvania in 1882, is America’s largest producer of carbon black, with 25 manufacturing plants in 19 countries and revenues of more than $2 billion. Worldwide carbon black needs for tire manufacturing alone are forecast to be more than 13 billion pounds in 2008.
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