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What are the forgotten crayola colors?

Crayola has produced over 200 different crayon colors since first introducing the iconic Crayola crayon box in 1903. While many of us remember classics like Red, Blue, and Green, there are dozens of unique and creative color names that have been retired or renamed over the past century.

In this article, we’ll take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and explore some of the Crayola colors of yesteryear that you may have forgotten. From changing social norms to consumer feedback, there are interesting stories behind each color’s entrance and eventual exit from the Crayola lineup. We’ll also learn where some of these vintage colors fall on the visual spectrum.

The Origins of Crayola Crayons

Before diving into Crayola’s forgotten colors, let’s briefly go over the beginning of the Crayola crayon company. Crayola traces its roots back to 1885, when cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith co-founded the Binney & Smith company in New York City. The company’s first product was a black carbon pigment used for coloring tires, shoes, and other rubber goods. This pigment was called “aniline dyes.”

In 1900, Binney & Smith acquired the Munsell Color Company that had developed industrial pigments for coloring paints, inks, and plastics. By taking over the Munsell Company’s extensive color research, Binney & Smith shifted their focus to the art supply world. Edwin Binney’s wife, Alice Stead Binney, coined the name “Crayola” by combining the French word “craie” (meaning chalk) with “ola” from “oleaginous” (oily). The first Crayola crayons rolled out in 1903 with an affordable nickel price tag.

The first Crayola pack consisted of just 8 colors: Black, Blue, Orange, Violet, Yellow, Green, Red, and Brown. Over the next few decades, Binney & Smith continued expanding their Crayola color palette by listening to consumer and retailer feedback. By 1958, the 64-count Crayola box featured favorites like Sky Blue, Tickle Me Pink, and Purple Mountain’s Majesty. The company’s growth and innovation turned Crayola crayons into an iconic American brand. However, with new colors being frequently introduced and occasionally retired, it’s natural for some of Crayola’s classic colors to slip out of our childhood memories.

The 16 Retired Crayola Colors

Since 1903, Crayola has discontinued over 30 of its original crayon colors. Some names were changed over time, while others were removed entirely. Let’s take a visual journey through 16 of Crayola’s forgotten colors that were retired between 1903 and 1990.

Retired Color Name Years Produced
Blue Gray 1903-1958
Lemon Yellow 1903-1949
Violet Blue 1903-1930
Prussian Blue 1903-1958
Gold 1903-1944
Silver 1903-1958
Charcoal Gray 1903-1949
Flesh 1903-1962
Lemon Flesh 1903-1949
Indian Red 1903-1999
Orange Yellow 1958-1990
Violet Red 1949-1958
Mulberry 1958-1990
Raw Umber 1958-1990
Maize 1958-1990
Thistle 1958-1990

As we glance over these retired colors, a few interesting themes emerge. Let’s dig deeper into the stories and pressures that resulted in certain Crayola colors fading away.

Racially Insensitive Color Names

Some early Crayola color names reflected racial biases that were unfortunately common in the early 1900’s, but are cringeworthy by today’s standards. The “Flesh” crayon represented light skin tones, while “Indian Red” depicted Native American skin. In 1962, Crayola wisely renamed “Flesh” to “Peach” to be more inclusive. The company also changed “Prussian Blue” to “Midnight Blue” in 1958 to avoid referencing Prussian culture.

However, “Indian Red” lasted much longer before being discontinued in 1999 due to complaints from consumers. Crayola publicly acknowledged that the name was offensive and should be removed. It was replaced by the color “Chestnut” in the large 96-count box. Eliminating racially insensitive names was an important step towards creating a more ethical and inclusive brand.

Aligning With Educational Curriculums

Crayola has always worked closely with educators to ensure their products align with school art curriculums. The company discovered some obscure color names like “Orange Yellow” and “Violet Blue” confused young children who were learning primary colors. Teachers also provided feedback that certain hues weren’t distinct enough from existing options. This educational perspective resulted in streamlining the Crayola palette over the decades.

For example, “Orange Yellow” and “Orange Red” were removed in 1990 to eliminate confusion over primary versus secondary colors. “Thistle” and “Mulberry” were retired the same year since they were too similar to existing purple shades. While Crayola enjoyed having creative color names, ensuring their products effectively taught core art concepts was a higher priority.

Naming Constraints and Trademarks

Crayola has created over 500 catchy and unique color names since 1903. Coming up with hundreds of original titles presented an increasingly difficult creative challenge for their team as the lineup expanded over the decades. They also had to avoid any trademarked terms owned by competitors and other companies.

For example, Crayola changed “Cornflower” to “Blue Bell” in 1958 since the name was already trademarked by fabrics company Vat-Tech. For simplicity, they also replaced some color titles that referenced proper nouns, like “Prussian Blue” and “Copenhagen Blue.” Removing these types of names freed up Crayola’s future naming opportunities.

Focus On Core Colors

While Crayola enjoyed having an extended palette, they realized most consumers gravitated towards classic colors like Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, Violet, Brown, and Black. In fact, the first Crayola box in 1903 contained just 8 crayons with these core color families. As variety diluted demand for the mega-packs over time, Crayola periodically trimmed back to refocus on their most essential shades.

Phasing out less popular colors also improved manufacturing efficiency and quality control. Having fewer color formulations to manage resulted in higher crayon quality and consistency. So the retirements weren’t only about pruning lackluster colors, but consolidating production around their true classics. Streamlining ultimately helped Crayola perfect their signature crayon formula for generations to come.

Environmental Impacts

In addition to economic factors, Crayola also aimed to improve their environmental footprint by reducing the number of color variations over time. Producing fewer unique hues lowered raw material usage, water consumption, and manufacturing waste.

The company switched to non-toxic paraffin wax in the 1980s to create a safer, cleaner-burning crayon. Crayola also boosted recycled content in their paper packaging and implemented eco-friendly initiatives at their factories. While maximizing environmental sustainability wasn’t the leading driver of color retirements, it was likely an added bonus.

The Comeback of Retired Colors

Just because a Crayola color got retired doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. In fact, the company has brought back a handful of discontinued shades over the years by popular demand. For the 90th Crayola anniversary in 1993, four retired colors got a second chance: Maize, Lemon Yellow, Raw Umber, and Green Blue.

The company also regularly releases limited and special edition assortments that contain a throwback to yesteryear. Their “Retro 16-Pack” in 2011 included Orange Yellow and Thistle alongside 70s favorites like Burnt Sienna and Harvest Gold. Crayola knows nostalgia sells, so resuscitating shades from the back catalogue helps boost interest and sales from older generations.

Social media has also allowed fans to directly lobby Crayola to resuscitate long-lost colors. A Facebook group called “Bring Back Thistle!” with 5,000+ members was created in 2010 dedicated to reviving the beloved purple hue. While Crayola hasn’t officially added it back to the classic lineup yet, they did include Thistle in a special 96-color Ultimate Crayon Collection in 2011 to appease passionate fans.

The Evolution of Crayola Colors

Examining Crayola’s timeline of color retirements reveals an evolving strategy to: eliminate controversy, align with education, consolidate offerings, boost quality control, and meet consumer demands. While economic and operational factors primarily drove the decisions, social progress also motivated the renaming or removal of insensitive colors. It took nearly a century for Crayola’s palette to reach the diverse representation it has today.

However, true favorites like Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, Violet, Brown, and Black have stood the test of time. Crayola realized their brand was defined by these signature colors rather than one-off experiments with shades like Lemon Flesh or Prussian Blue. Even with over 200 current colors, the foundational 8 colors from 1903 represent the enduring heart of Crayola’s visual identity.

Understanding the history behind Crayola’s color retirements gives us a deeper appreciation for how the iconic brand has evolved. Next time you open a fresh box of crayons, pause to consider how that spectrum came to be.While you may not remember fleeting shades like Thistle or Turquois Blue, their stories reveal a lot about changes in consumer preferences and social norms over the decades. At the same time, seeing how Crayola held onto their core colors should make you feel like a kid again.


Crayola crayons have captured the imaginations of children and adults for over a century. But many of their unique color names have come and gone through the years. By exploring some of Crayola’s forgotten colors and the reasons behind their departure, we discovered an underappreciated dimension to the company’s fascinating history.

Beyond pure nostalgia, learning about retired colors provides context on the pressures that shaped Crayola as a brand. From marketing, child psychology, and manufacturing innovations to responding to social change, Crayola made careful decisions to grow their signature crayon box. The next time you use a Crayola crayon, take a moment to consider the color’s backstory as well.