Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

Those Colorful Crayons

16 Crayola crayons, Binney & Smith, about 1968 Think of the ubiquitous crayon—generally a three-inch-long, likely worn down (or possibly broken!) waxy object. There could be some in your utility drawer at home right now, or maybe there is a bucketful in your family’s playroom. Head on over to any family restaurant and there’s a good chance you find some waiting at your table ready to be used on the nearest paper placemat. You might even find evidence of crayon usage on your child’s bedroom wall, an ideal mural surface for tiny humans.

Much like the effects of Play-Doh, most adults wax nostalgic over crayons as objects from our youth which enveloped our senses: their colorful hues, the feel of the wrapper gripped between our index finger and thumb, their distinct waxy smell, and of course, the slight “crackling” noise that you hear when lifting a pressed crayon off of a piece of crisp paper. When we reflect on crayons, many of us of think of Crayola crayons—the most famous brand of crayons in American history. However, Crayolas were far from the first crayons made. Evidence of crayon-like drawings can be traced back to 100 A.D. when Egyptians formulated encaustic painting, a process that combined hot beeswax and pigments. The word “crayon” came into usage as early as 1644, originating from the words craie (French for chalk) and creta (the Latin term for earth). Similarly, pastels and conté crayons, graphic media heavily used by artists throughout Europe from the 17th to 19th centuries, pre-date contemporary crayons.  

Milton Bradley Company trade catalog, 1925 Modern day crayons began selling in the 1870s and you could have any color you wanted—as long as it was black. They were used mainly as waterproof markers in factories, but these crayons were made up of toxic substances and not suitable for use by children. By the early 1880s, several manufacturers began to add pigmented colors to wax crayons and eventually produced crayon sets. Some early manufacturers of crayons include E. Steiger & Co., Franklin Mfg., Eberhard Faber, Joseph Dixon Crucible Co., Prang Educational Company, Milton Bradley, Standard Crayon Company, American Crayon Company, Eagle Pencil Company, and New England Crayon Company.

No. 8 Crayola School Crayons, Binney & Smith, about 1905 There have been more than 300 crayon manufacturers in the United States, though the brand that still sells the most is Crayola. Initially developed in 1902 by the Binney & Smith Company (now Crayola LLC), Crayola crayons were first marketed and sold to schools in 1903. Taking into account the feedback that they received from schoolteachers, cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith used waxes, talc, and pigments mixed together in small batches to form a non-toxic product with paper labels, thus making their crayons safe and mess-free. The first pack of Crayola crayons consisted of eight colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, black, and brown) and sold for five cents. Alice Binney, Edwin’s wife, was credited with the name “Crayola,” by blending the word craie with the first part of the word oleaginous (oily paraffin wax).

Today Crayola crayons are manufactured using automated machines that mix liquefied paraffin and powdered pigments together which are then poured into molds, hardened, and prepped for packaging. Crayola LLC manufactures more than three billion crayons per year and currently produces more than 120 different colors. As the result of their longevity, popularity, and household name status, Crayola Crayons were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

The thought of coloring again with crayons seems very relaxing, I may just have to spring for a new box of crayons and one of those trendy coloring books for adults and let my creativity take over!

Behind the Scenes: Conservation at The Strong

In the spring, guests attending The Strong’s Museum Secrets events got a behind-the-scenes look at The Strong’s conservation labs and learned about some of the strategies and techniques used to keep collections preserved.

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Dino-MITE!

GIFT SHOP. Those two words might strike fear into the hearts of museum-going parents, but for children who have been bribed into good behavior, it is a beacon. Don’t disappear, don’t have a tantrum, don’t break anything—you may be rewarded with something from the museum’s gift shop. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where we had a treasure trove of museums to frequent.

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Installing Ralph Baer's Desk at The Strong

Museums have long memorialized genius. While art museums preserve great paintings and sculptures, history museums collect and preserve a wide-ranging record of the ways individuals, groups, and companies have shaped our society.

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From Italy to Rochester, Looking for the Meaning of Play

In November 2015, I came from my home in Turin, Italy, to spend a month at The Strong museum working on my research project, “The Meaning of Toys: Creating and Conveying Knowledge through Playful Artifacts.” I was honored to be granted a  Strong Research Fellowship that financed the first half of my stay.

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Playmobil Play Sets

In my previous blog titled I’d Like to Thank All the Little People, I described the profound impact that Fisher-Price’s Play Family had on my preschool years in the early 1970s.

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Nancy Drew and the Case of the Girl Gamers

Recently, debates about women and video games have been making the rounds. The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Colbert Report, for instance, have drawn attention to what it can be like for women in gaming communities.

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Sid Sackson: Game Player and Designer

The Strong not only collects playthings, but also acquires significant material related to the invention, manufacture, and use of those playthings. One of the museum’s treasures is the collection of games, game prototypes, and archives from noted American game inventor and historian, Sid Sackson. Sackson (1920–2002) is revered among inventors, collectors, and serious players for his lifelong dedication to games and the gaming world.

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The 2016 Class for the World Video Game Hall of Fame

Anyone interested in the evolution of video games can learn a great deal by simply examining the history of the six newest inductees into The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame: The Oregon Trail, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Sims, and Grand Theft Auto III.

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Game Night!

It’s game night and my friends are gathered in my dining room. Four of them are face-down in a plateful of whipped cream, with their hands tied behind their backs, desperately trying to find snack-size candy bars hidden underneath. The rest of the group are laughing raucously, cheering their partners on. The goal of the first group to find and eat all five hidden snack-size candy bars is well on its way, and it looks like it’s coming down between my friend, James, and my wife, Kaytlyn.

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Light Up the Night with Mega Man Rock

I have a confession to make. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m hoping readers will understand. I’m 34 years old, and just recently, I attended my first rock concert. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering my profession, this concert consisted of a hard rock opera based on the 1980s video game series Mega Man.

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