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How many colors were in the original Crayola Crayons?

How many colors were in the original Crayola Crayons?

Crayola crayons hold a special place in many people’s childhood memories. The iconic boxes with the built-in sharpener have long been a staple of classrooms, art studios, and family homes across America. While Crayola now offers boxes with as many as 200 crayons in a wide array of colors, the original box first produced in 1903 contained far fewer. So just how many colors were in those original Crayola crayons? Let’s take a look back at the history and evolution of this classic American brand to find out.

The Origins of Crayola Crayons

Crayola crayons trace their origins to the Binney & Smith Company, founded in 1885 in New York. The company originally produced colorants, pigments, and other products used for painting and industry. By the turn of the century, they had begun developing and producing chalks for artists as well as children. At the time, colored chalks were often messy and inferior quality, inspiring Binney & Smith to produce a superior product.

In 1903, Binney & Smith introduced the Crayola brand colored pencil made with high-quality pigments and wax. The Crayola name was coined by Alice Binney, wife of company founder Edwin Binney. She combined the French word “craie” (meaning chalk) with “ola” from “oleaginous” (oily). The resulting Crayola name referenced the key benefits of the new chalk – it had the pigment quality of oil with the convenience of chalk.

The Debut of Crayola Crayons

Building on the success of their Crayola-branded colored pencils and chalks, Binney & Smith next introduced the Crayola crayon in 1903. The first Crayola crayons were similar in shape to stick candles and sold for a nickel a box. Each box contained 8 different colors of wax crayons. Reportedly, the original colors were black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green.

So in answer to the question “How many colors were in the original Crayola crayons?”, the debut box contained 8 different color crayons.

Black Brown Blue
Red Purple Orange
Yellow Green

While some sources report the first colors as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black, the original order is less clear. Regardless, it is well-established that the first Crayola crayon box featured 8 colors.

Growth in Popularity

The first Crayola crayons were an immediate success. Their superior quality and pigmentation compared to competing crayon brands made them popular with both children and artists. Built-in sharpeners were added to the boxes in 1904 to further enhance convenience and usability. By 1905, the company was producing more than 1 million boxes of crayons a year. Binney & Smith expanded their factory in Easton, PA to accommodate massive growth in crayon demand.

Teachers in the U.S. were early adopters of Crayola crayons for classroom use. Affordable pricing and bulk purchases for schools fueled steady sales growth. Within a few decades of launch, Crayola became the premier brand in the crayon market, a position it maintains today. By the 1920’s, Binney & Smith’s annual production of Crayola crayons had grown to 1.5 billion a year and Crayola became a household name synonymous with coloring and creativity.

The Growth of the Crayon Color Palette

While the original 1903 Crayola crayon box featured 8 basic colors, the palette quickly expanded to meet customer needs. In 1913, Crayola introduced a 12-count box with black, brown, violet, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, sky blue, carnation pink, yellow orange, and yellow green. This was followed in 1926 by a change over to a new 16-count box containing red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black, white, violet red, green yellow, red orange, red violet, yellow green, blue green and blue violet.

By 1958, the standard Crayola crayon box offered 48 different colors. The most recent large format box contains 200 different Crayola crayon colors!

Here is a snapshot of how the Crayola crayon color palette grew over the decades:

1903 8 colors
1913 12 colors
1926 16 colors
1958 48 colors
2023 200 colors

The Longevity of Early Crayola Colors

While the Crayola crayon color range grew exponentially, many of the original colors from the debut 8-count box remain staples today. Of the reported original 8 Crayola crayon colors (black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow and green), all but one are still contained in the largest 200-count box today.

The only color from the original 1903 box that has been retired is purple. Interestingly, purple was replaced with violet in the timeline, as chemists at Binney & Smith perfected a truer purple pigment. The original 8 Crayola colors with approximate retirement dates are as follows:

Black Still in use
Brown Still in use
Blue Still in use
Red Still in use
Purple Retired in 1917
Orange Still in use
Yellow Still in use
Green Still in use

This demonstrates the longevity and staying power of the original Crayola crayon color palette chosen in 1903. While many specialty colors have been added over the decades, the core set has remained largely unchanged.

Specialty and Novelty Crayon Lines

In addition to growing the standard color palette, Crayola has produced many specialty crayon lines over the years. These include:

– Fluorescent crayons – Launched in the 1970s, originally with 8 bright, glow-in-the-dark crayon colors.

– Metallic crayons – Special shimmer and glitter colors first introduced in 1984.

– Pearl crayons – Opaque, pearlescent crayons first seen in 1994.

– Window crayons – Clear, transparent crayons allowing coloring on windows, first released in 1995.

– Neon crayons – Brilliant neon shades glow under black light, debuting in 1996.

– Gemstone crayons – Opaque crayons with a sparkly finish, launched in 1998.

– Gear crayons – Crayons shaped like gears that mesh together, released in 2015.

– Scented crayons – Crayons releasing fun aromas when colored with, first offered in 2017.

While not comprehensive, this list demonstrates Crayola’s constant innovation and new offerings beyond the original classic crayon. However, the core 8-color box that started it all remains at the heart of Crayola 120 years later.

The Growth of Crayola Brand and Products

Crayola’s remarkable growth extends far beyond crayons alone. In addition to crayons, Crayola offers colored pencils, markers, modeling clay, chalk, paints, and many arts and crafts supplies today. Crayola brand sales have grown from $2 million in 1900 to over $1 billion today, cementing Crayola as the premiere creative brand (Hall). Beyond supplies, Crayola offers books, puzzles, digital apps, and even operates “Crayola Experience” family attractions. From its humble beginnings producing one product line, Crayola has expanded into a massive brand synonymous with creative play and expression.

Crayola’s Impact on Culture

Crayola crayons have become deeply ingrained in American and worldwide culture. The classic back-to-school ritual of getting the big Crayola crayon box has been passed down for generations. Studying the colors cements brand-name shades like “Tickle Me Pink” and “Burnt Sienna” in children’s memory. Crayola even has a color named after the brand – “Crayola Blue” in the 200-count box. Collectively, Crayola’s growth mirrors the emergence of crayons as an iconic medium for creativity and expression.

Crayola crayons and brand have appeared in TV, movies, songs, and books. They are featured in the Richard Scarry “Busytown” children’s series. They have been sung about in the “Crayons Can Melt on Us for All I Care” song by Relient K. Crayons and the Crayola brand are intertwined with 20th and 21st century culture.


While Crayola now produces boxes with as many as 200 specialty crayon colors, the original offering in 1903 box contained just 8 crayons. These debut colors – reportedly black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green – kicked off a coloring revolution. Aside from retired purple, the other 7 original colors stand the test of time. From simple beginnings, Crayola captured the market and imagination to become the crayon brand for generations of children and adults. Though the offerings have exploded, the original 8-count box deserves credit for igniting a passion for coloring and creativity that still burns bright today.