• Steven Heller

The Crayon in the Room: Waxing Eloquently

In 1835, Dr. Francis F. Field, a dentist from Waltham, Massachusetts, experimented with making better chalk, which was developed into a commercial product by Parmenter, Powell & Powers Company and became known as Waltham Crayons. In 1850, William D. Curtis formulated an improved chalk in the kitchen of his small home. By 1860, this turned into a company called the American Crayon Company, which made the first tailor’s chalk, the first carpenter’s chalk, and, in 1878, the first railroad chalk.

The American Crayon Company of Sandusky, Ohio, manufacturer of Prang colors and Payons (Painting Crayons), published a monthly magazine called Everyday Art from the 1930s into the early 1950s. The company itself existed from 1890–1957, when it became a subsidiary of Joseph Dixon Crucible Co. until 1982. (What’s left was enveloped into the Dixon Ticonderoga Company.) Around 1915, the American Crayon Company merged with adopted the Prang Educational Company’s mission to make art accessible to the common American household and child by way of the public classroom. This magazine served as that classroom.

Everyday Art: News and Comment on the Trend of School and Industrial Arts was a means for the non-professional to enjoy the satisfaction of creation. A selling tool for American Crayon Company, it also suggested that an interest in art and design is an integral part of a well-rounded life. In the May–June 1940 issue, an article on “Beauty in Letter Forms” provides a mini-primer for the erstwhile typophile.

“Letters as such,” wrote Frank M. Ludwig, the director of art at the University of Grand Rapids, “are made up of lines. From the standpoint of psychology we know that lines suggest definite characteristics. Thus straight lines are indicative of speed. Curved lines, because they require more on the retina of the eye, are spoken of as lines of grace. The various positions which straight lines may take also lend them distinct meanings. Thus, vertical lines are indicative of assurance and aspiration. Horizontal lines convey the suggestion of rest whereas diagonal or slanted lines give the impression of action or dejection. The wavy line, the spiral and the S-curve, each in their turn suggest degrees of movement and gradual transition.”

That’s pretty heady type-talk for a magazine for the masses. Here are some covers. Note the recurring change of logos. And below are some ads for American Crayon’s products. (Incidentally, the “Old Faithful” geyser is its trademark.)

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