Monday, April 20, 2009

The American Crayon Company


The American Crayon Company, steeped in Sandusky’s colorful history as one of the premier and foremost manufacturers of school art supplies and other industrial products in the nation during its time, originally grew out of the need for a high quality chalk. It soon branched out of a humble kitchen into a national company primarily operated and concentrated in the city of Sandusky. It expanded over time by merging with and absorbing other companies and redirecting its product line focus, and also established itself as a lifetime employer of countless Sanduskians. With the acquisition of Prang’s Educational Company around 1915, the American Crayon Company adopted and incorporated Prang Educational Company’s mission to make art accessible to the common American household and child by way of the public classroom, thus cementing its historical impact on a local and national scale.

In 1835, Dr. Francis F. Field, a dentist in Waltham, Massachusetts experimented with chalk, which was later developed into a commercial product by Parmenter, Powell & Powers Company to become known as Waltham Crayons. Similarly, Marcellus F. Cowdery, the first superintendent of Sandusky’s Public Schools, frustrated by existing chalks constantly scratching slate boards, encouraged his brother-in-law, William D. Curtis, to formulate an improved chalk. In 1850 Curtis began conducting experiments in the kitchen of his small home, located on Hayes Avenue near Polk Street and was able to create a few sticks of pure white, processed chalk. Plentiful gypsum and limestone deposits, used in the production of this chalk, were conveniently located nearby, alongside Sandusky Bay. Initially, the business remained small and was operated out of Curtis’s kitchen, as he peddled the product from house to house. The invitation of John S. Cowdery, Marcellus’s brother into this new business venture, sparked company growth, as by 1869, John Cowdery’s cellar on Columbus Avenue became the center of operations for chalk production for the Mississippi and Ohio River Valley markets. By 1860, the American Crayon Company had made the first tailor’s chalk, the first carpenter’s chalk, and in 1878 created the first railroad chalk. Originally labeled as the J.S. Cowdery Manufacturers the company quickly renamed itself Western School Supply in 1884 after expanding production facilities in 1881 near Hayes Avenue and Polk Street to meet the growing demands for school related products.

In 1890, the Sandusky based Western School Supply Company merged with Tiffin Crayon Company and the Parmenter Crayon Company in Waltham, Massachusetts to officially form and establish the American Crayon Company. On October 4, 1901, a fire destroyed the company’s original Sandusky plant, and a larger one on Hayes Avenue south of the New York Central Railroad tracks was opened in September 1902. The revitalized company began purchasing additional art supply companies in New England and the Midwest.
World War I interrupted commercial trade between many nations including the United States and Germany. Prang’s heavy reliance on German chemicals and products to manufacture its own items was impeded by decreased availability before and during World War I. These circumstances pushed Prang Educational Company and American Crayon Company into a merger in 1913. The combined companies organized their own small independent watercolor factory in Sandusky called Kroma Color Company. American Crayon Company’s complete take- over of the Prang Educational Company around 1915 gave them the rights to use the unmistakable “Prang” trademark of the “Old Faithful” geyser at Yellowstone National Park as their advertising logo symbolizing quality, value, and tradition. The American Crayon Company manufactured a long line of crayons, chalks, blackboards, erasers, watercolors, pencils, paste, cleaners, and other more industrial items, such as chalk for tailors, carpenters, textile mills, and railroad stockyards. The growing success and popularity of the American Crayon Company led to its prosperous operation at the original Sandusky plant through the 1920s to the 1950s.

In January 1957, the American Crayon Company became an affiliate of Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, based in Jersey City, New Jersey. The news was followed by high hopes and promises to continue labor operations in Sandusky and deter little from the existing set up. The unpredictable nature of business and changing economy led to the Bryn Mawr Corporation’s 1984 purchase of American Crayon’s parent company, Joseph Dixon Crucible. Dixon Ticonderoga, established much earlier than American Crayon Company, produced similar products but tended to focus more on industrial supplies. Although predictions and negotiations continued and were meant to reassure the ongoing operation of the Sandusky plant following its acquisition, gradually labor and plant operations along with a host of selected employees were outsourced to Canada and Mexico. Eventually, all the operations were progressively moved out of the original Sandusky plant, and it closed its doors in 2002 after 167 years of service in Sandusky, Ohio as a loyal and long-term employer in the community. American Crayon Company opened a new world of art to young children and provided a major source of employment for the local community, earning itself an important place in Sandusky’s history of development and business.

36 comments:

Carol said...

Very interesting article. Three of my four grandparents worked at American Crayon at some point during their lives, and my father can remember visiting the factory with his dad. Does anyone know a year for the group picture in the article?

Sandusky Library Archives Research Center said...

"Does anyone know a year for the group picture in the article?"

We don't have an exact year for that image, but judging from appearances, it was in the early 20th century -- possibly as early as 1900, but probably around 1910-1915.

Anonymous said...

NAFTA. Great work.

soccerguy13 said...

I just came across about 6 boxes of these crayons. They are the gross boxes where the chalk is boxed in a wooden box with sawdust. There is blue, pink, green, purple, and mixed box of pieces. It was neat to see the history of these crayons.
If anyone out there knows of a value of these crayons, please let me know. I was just going to use them in the classroom, but it might be worth hanging on to them. Thanks!

soccerguy13 said...

Check out http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&item=200363396571#ht_500wt_1182

Anonymous said...

What an interesting article! The mention of railroad chalk reminds me of my childhood in Sandusky. We lived on McEwen Street, right on the Bay, where the trains would run by throughout the day. As youngsters without computers and other gadgets we played outside all day long and make our own fun. When we would hear the whistle and knew the train would be coming along, we'd run as fast as we could to the tracks and wait for the train which was either slowing down or just leaving, from where I did not know. In unison we'd yell, "chalk!" "chalk!" and sure enough the man on the train would toss out to us these large yellow sticks of chalk they used on the cars. The chalk was not at all the the chalk we were used to in school, which was small,white,and brittle. This chalk was soft and wonderful to use. We'd spend countless hours drawing all over the sidewalks and driveways of our neighborhoods. All of us budding artists! The magic lasted until Mom or Dad used the garden hose or we'd get a summer rain. The tracks there are long gone but the chalk still makes its way into childrens eager hands. Except they call it "sidewalk chalk" now and sell it in stores in lots of colors. I'll bet kids today don't know how their sidewalk chalk got it's start. I suppose the box of colors is a lot of fun, but I still like our way best!

oafdawq said...

I used to make the railroad chalk at American Crayon. I was probably 19 years old and worked there for a few months while I was laid off from Ford. I was trying to explain the machine I used to make the chalk to my son and Googled American Crayon to see if I could find a photo of it and found this website. Pretty cool! Another part of Sandusky's history, and jobs, gone forever.

Marilyn said...

I found a long black box of the crayons at an antique store. Of course I thought they were the ones I had as a youngster and they had come back to me, ha! There were no other like them. I do artwork today and I have to say I think it all started with these wonderful crayons. Does anyone know the real worth of these. I will never part with them; I am only curious.

Anonymous said...

Great history of the American Crayon Company. I have a number of their mini-magazines "Everday Art" they produced in the 1920s and 30s aimed at art teachers (School and Industrial Arts).
Fred K., Ontario, Canada

Anonymous said...

While going to college in the early 70s, I worked two summers at AC in the Shipping Dept.

The work environment was hot, but it helped to pay school expenses and that was what was important.

We had gasoline-powered forklifts (tow motors) to drive and on some summers days the carbon monoxide hung as a blue haze in the rafters of the warehouse.

In my last yr., my supervisor was the late Larry Krugman. The guy had a great attitude and he was a swell guy to work for. He had a big memorable grin.

I admired the guys in the machine shop's ability to keep the old equipment operating and patch the place together with 'spit and chicken wire.'

We belonged to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union.

When my last summer was nearing an end, the contract was up and there was talk of a strike. Since I was going back to school and wouldn't be affected, I went to several of my workmates and asked them how they wanted me to vote, as my vote was their vote.

To a man, they told me to vote for a strike.

The strike vote was passed and unfortunately as the coffers had very little money in them, the strike was broken after a couple of months.

As I previously wrote, I worked two summers at AC and have some fond and not-so-fond memories of my time there (especially my minor industrial accident), but ultimately my overall experience was positive in that I always felt that I put in a good day’s work for the pay.

Anonymous said...

I worked for American Crayon Co around 1967-1969,after graduation, in the sales dept. as the clerk typist. I also helped the file clerk file. No desk computers then. They were in the big "computer room". My boss and the secretary were fanastic. I would mail out the shipping "post cards" to the customers and give them the estimated shipping dates of arrival, using one of those black typewriters that clicked and you could throw the carriage return with your left hand. I loved that thing and got quick at it. We shipped crayons, paints, chalk by railroad or truck even overseas, government contracts. I remember walking to the shipping dept on the wooden floors and also see the factory workers making the railroad chalks or smell the melting of the wax for the crayons, etc. I remember Prang and then also Crayola products..They very good products used by schools everywhere. Good memories. Good products.

wonderdog7 said...

Does anyone remember a TV ad for American Crayons from the late 60's or early 70's that had a bunch of little kids dressed up as crayons and singing a jingle that had the line "Americans come in all colors..just like me"?

Cheryl said...

so? if i have a tin that says "the American Crayon Company" it is from prior to 1913?

Sandusky Library Archives Research Center said...

>>"so? if i have a tin that says "the American Crayon Company" it is from prior to 1913?"

Not necessarily. The American Crayon name was used well into the 20th century. If the box has the "Old Faithful" logo or saying on it, then it was definitely produced after 1913. If it doesn't have the Old Faithful trademark, it is more likely from before 1915.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have an Old King Cole #93 watercolor tin. It was made by The American Crayon Company,and on the inside says Kroma #93. Still has all the water colors in it. I was wondering if someone could give me more info on it, like when they were made and what it would be worth. Thanks much.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I came across a wooden box made by the american crayon company for "old Faithful" "sterling" white chalk. I bought the box because I thought it was neat and then I found out that the box it's self was full of what I think is all original chalk made by the company. Some pieces are broken but the chalk is an unusual shape- thinner at one end than the other, specifically a type known for being used by teachers.

Is it rare to find these boxes, let alone ones filled with chalk? Should I take this to someone to have them look at it? If anyone has any info on it please email me at schafer.k@att.net :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. We have an old shipping box here in Australia. It states "This case contains from American Crayon Company Sandusky Ohio New York"

Ingrid said...

This site has realy made my day.Thirty years ago we purchased an old wooden chest in Melbourne Australia, which is our home. We used it as a coffee table for a while and now after 15 y in the garage we decided to use it once more. We never paid much attention to the letters on the side. But since we just visited our son in NY the letters just jumped out to me.
-THIS CASE CONTAINS- - FROM THE AMERICA CRAYON CO - SANDUSKY - NEW YORK - We are very excited about this. Any idea how old this item might be. Ingrid

kris said...

do u know win The American Crayon Company made playons? thay are the painting crayons

Anonymous said...

does anyone have info on puppets made by american crayon co.? (Puppinetts?) I have a great folk art piece and can't find any info on it. It looks very similar to a Marionette and has the original box???

glenhorn said...

I have a book with copyright dates of 1942 and 1946 published by the American Crayon Company. It was given to me by my grandmother in 1948 when I was 4.

It is titled; American Childhood's Best Books, Deluxe Edition, Ages 4 and up to 8.

284 pages of large easy to read print with illustrations on every page, 35 stories such as Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood, Three Blind Mice, Uncle Wiggily and more favorites.

Bonnie (BornInaZoo) said...

Today while demolishing a screen porch probably built during the early 50s, I found a lid for a tin box from American Crayon Company.

A link to my photo:

http://tinyurl.com/254elc4

Heather said...

Aw, man, I found this blog because I've been trying to find contact info for Prang in order to show them the water colors I still have, and use, that were bought new when I was 7 - just over 30 years ago. My signature is still on the back from when I first learned how to write my name in cursive. My 4-year-old uses them now also, and I thought Prang might get a kick out of knowing that. I'm sad to learn that the American Crayon Co (printed on the cover) closed relatively recently. They probably would have liked to hear from me as well.

Anonymous said...

Ebay shows this listing to be dated 1930:

American Crayon Co. PAYONS (Watercolor Crayons)

Anonymous said...

I have a big yellow crayon it says american the "old faithful" crayons on it.it has a number on it #420.i was wondering could this be worth something.anybody know?

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth: We found a PRANG DEK-ALL box -with paint still in bottles. It is bright yellow and fushia and has the Old Faithful logo on the box. Sounds like this is pre 1915. Need info on value and where it would be best served for history. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Re: that Prang Dek-All set. It is No.1278. Thanks for help

Anonymous said...

I have a lovely wooden, dovetail jointed, felt-lined box (missing the slide-on top) that has a mahogany colored stain on it. Printed inside of a darker colored rectangle border on the front: "one half.....gross.....EMPIRE TEXTILE MILL CRAYONS...The American Crayon Co.....Sandusky, Ohio....U.S.A.......Waltham, Mass". It has no other logos or markings, that I can tell......any idea the age of this or value? --memily823

Dennis said...

My grandpa just passed away and in his last few weeks i spent very much time with him as i was very close to him.The nurses and docs who met me said, " you must be old faithful...I said huh? They said thats what he called me as i was there most everyday, he had never called me old faithful before.Now He gave me a box a couple years ago he said he made for his mom when he was very young in school.He passed away last night and i brought the box out to hold onto it and realized there was writing on the one side of it.I was blown out of the water when in hyphens it said "OLD FAITHFUL' You can understand i had a serious moment just then......and when looking at it more closely, it has a cylindrical object with writing on top of it that i cant quite make out and below that, the word dustless.It is a wooden box with two hinges on back and my grandpa was 89 yrs old...so he must have had it at least 80 yrs ago. This meanns much too me and wondering if anyone can shed some light on the history of this box....Thanks so much, Dennis Wangler......email-denwangler@msn.com

Anonymous said...

This url features an ad for Old Faithful dustless chalk:

http://tinyurl.com/7ycrejw

Ed said...

I have a crayon collection totalling nearly 3,000 boxes. I have many of their original wax crayon boxes from their first catalog put out in 1902. I'm slowly working on documenting and featuring them on my website at w2www.crayoncollecting.com. There are about 200 pictured there but I have many more to add.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I live in the UK and bought a box of these from a car boot sale in the UK, with a smaller version of the box pictured.

One dozen soft black in a red box with grey label. What sort of date would they be?

MEM said...

I have a wooden box of chalk, in sawdust. It says, on the Front"One-half "Freart" for Free expression work in Kindergarten and Primary Grades The American Crayon Company Sandusky . Ohio . New York
Would love to find the box a new home.

max430 said...

Very interesting article! I have a wooden game with a base and pegged wood figures (house, trees, and shrubs). It has a sticker on the base that reads American Crayon Company, Educational Playthings, Sandusky, Ohio. I cannot find anything about this item. Is this an American Crayon product?

fluffy said...

Carol, I beleive the photo was shot sometime after 1912 when the subway was completeed. I don't not remember when the office part was added( I want to say 1925). However I do know the plant was there before the subway was dug.

Ann said...

I've heard so much from my Mother, about her father, John Curtis Whitworth, and his involvement with the American Crayon Company. Now I know why we had so many free crayons, and why they were never the Crayolas my classmates all had.