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!

CHEGheads Going to Gaming Paradise . . . E3

The CHEGheads are headed to E3 Expo 2010. Both a trade show and a celebration of gaming, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is one of the most talked about industry events of the year. With the opening only a few days away, the E3 excitement is building on the blogosphere as gamers anxiously await news on “what’s next” in the gaming world.

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A Generous Gift of Video Game Guides

Ever been stuck in a game? You’re not alone. Back in the 1980s, when I was cutting my gaming teeth, I remember being stymied by Colossal Cave Adventure. I was playing the Osborne Computer version, written by Mike Goetz I believe, and to win the game you had to amass 580 points by solving a series of puzzles and challenges to acquire all the treasure. I had figured out almost all the problems in the game but couldn’t complete it. At last a friend told me I could teleport from room to room with the secret word, XYZZY.

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It's How You Play the Video Game

How many times have you thrown a fit when you lost a game? And in turn, how many times did a friend or relative remind you that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters? In today’s electronic gaming world, manufacturers are emphasizing this point in new ways. For many gamers, it’s no longer about winning or losing, it’s literally all about how you play.

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The Curious Case of the China Doll

I don’t know that the words curator and curious come from a common root word, but I’ve noticed that most curators—like inquisitive three-year-olds—persistently ask questions. Even curators who’ve done thorough research keep on asking questions about their subject matter. And that’s the way things should be because researchers, historians, and collectors uncover new information all the time.

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Haute Couture Popping Up in Video Games

Coco Chanel from The Guardian

 

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Video Game Sing Along, Anyone?

It's only natural that ICHEG be located in Rochester, a city with universities and colleges that attract students and academics from across the globe. One evening, while reminiscing with a few of them about childhood memories, a student from Portugal recalled the numerous occasions when he skipped religious studies to go to the arcade with change his mother had given him for an after-school snack. He would slip the coins into the slot of the Contra arcade game like he was feeding it communion. He loved the way the mechanical, fast-paced sounds burst from the screen.

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Once Upon a Time...

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Who is Your Sailor Moon?

One of the most frequent questions I receive as a gamer is, “What kinds of games do you enjoy playing?” This question seems simplistic, but the answer is definitely not. I’ve given several different ones over the years, ranging from specific examples, such as Mario Bros., to broad genres, like puzzle games. As I get older, I realize my absolute favorite games are those that represent a connection to my personal life, especially games that take me back to a part of my past.

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Why are Casual Games so Compelling?

Lyman Abbott

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Which Came First, the Goose or the Egg?

Strong recently acquired a very rare and important board game—“The Jolly Game of Goose.” The game is printed on paper with old, yellowed tape on its folds.

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