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.
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.