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!

Top 25 Video Game Villains 4: Mind Games

Welcome back to our countdown of the all-time top 25 villains. Below we have a nice combination of villains from both classic games and exciting newer ones, along with one of my personal favorites coming in at number six! #10: Space Invaders Aliens: “Just…one…more…quarter…”

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Top 25 Video Game Villains 3: Is Your Favorite Listed?

This edition of our video game villain countdown will take us more than halfway through our list and will, I hope, bring back some wonderful memories for you.

Dracula from Gamexeon

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Top 25 Video Game Villains 2: Monsters, Machines and Many Arms!

Here are our next five classic favorites, as we continue counting down the Top 25 video game villains.

Cyberdemon from Giantbomb

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Top 25 Video Game Villains 1: Evil Beginnings

Who’s the baddest of them all? Find out one opinion here. This and each of our next four ICHEG blogs are dedicated to those nefarious antagonists we love to hate—video game villains! For five consecutive postings we will cite five villains, leading up to the biggest baddie of all time. As with all lists of this nature, everyone has individual ideas and personal favorites. I used the following criteria when compiling the list:

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Backyard Adventures

As a kid, my summers included family camping trips, excursions to the amusement park, and Fourth of July fireworks. But those were the landmark events that punctuated the extended freedom of June, July, and August. On a day-to-day basis, my activities centered on the fun we created ourselves. And the location for those activities tended to be the small patch of sun, shade, and lawn in our suburban backyard.

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Traditional Influences on Digital Media

As a fan of the hit television series Man vs. Wild on Discovery Channel, I was thrilled by my chance encounter with the show’s celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls at E3. On screen, Bear inevitably finds himself in harrowing situations that test his expert survival skills. Publisher Crave Entertainment is betting gamers will want to walk in Bear’s shoes in their upcoming video game adaptation of the show.

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Ever the Crafty One

They say that the best things in life are free, and that concept definitely applies to my creative endeavors. I’ve always been a scavenger (and hoarder) of craft materials too pretty or unique to pass up. I picked up the habit at summer camp, where I spent as much time as possible on arts and crafts. Half the fun of those projects was in dismantling them later for parts.

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Three Themes of E3

Between individual meetings about our work here at ICHEG, I grabbed an opportunity to wander the E3 conference floor in LA. After interacting with the various displays, I concluded that this year's E3 encompassed three themes:

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On the Road with Video Games

Last week, my husband and I took a road trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our drive took us through parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and over the course of our six and a half hour drive, we visited many of the convenient highway stops along the way. While stretching our legs at these rest stops, I happily discovered that the vast majority contained small video game arcades!

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Haven’t We Seen this One Before?

Work and play aren’t opposites, far from it. Here’s a story about how it’s sometimes hard to see the difference between a task and a pastime. On the recent Memorial Day weekend, my “honey-do” list included fetching our fluffy puppy from the groomer; he’d been overdue for his seasonal trim. Walk-ins flooded the salon because Fido needed to look his best for the backyard barbecue. In the waiting room, I flipped through the day-old newspaper weekend section where I noticed that Saw VI was showing at the second run theaters.

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