CRAYOLA's Peekskill History

It is interesting to note that a durable 150 year old American company, the makers of "Crayola" products began in the mid 1860s as Peekskill Chemical Works.

PEEKSKILL CHEMICAL WORKS was the origin of the BINNEY AND SMITH COMPANY that later created the first "Crayola" Crayon in 1903

An immigrant from England, Joseph Walker Binney, started a small chemical works in Peekskill in a former tobacco factory in the area just past the former "rockcut" area at Annsville, once known as Lampblack Hill in 1864. This factory became the Peekskill Chemical Works.

The facility originally ground and packaged hardwood charcoal.  Another product was Lampblack, a dry carbon pigment made from burning fats and grease. Such raw materials may were available from the tannery operating on McGregory Brook, and from McCoy's and Best's boneyard on Central Avenue. The company also made small amounts of lampblack from whale oil then available from ships traveling up the Hudson River.

Binney was born in England on December 6, 1836. He was the son of a prominent stockbroker of Wakefield. At 18 he served in the Crimean War as an army captain with the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava. He was an aid to General Vivian and avoided the Russian artillery of the disastrous ride that killed nearly half the brigade.

After arriving in the U.S., he married Annie Eliza Conklin of Shrub Oak. She was one of five children, born in 1845, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Conklin. He was a pattern maker in the foundry business. She and Binney had eight children, five sons and three daughters. Joseph Binney was also in the insurance business and worked as a real estate broker. The Binney building was once located on North Division Street.

Joseph Binney is listed in the 1875 Peekskill Directory as living in a house on Main Street at North James Street. In 1880, Binney opened a New York City office. He hired as a nephew as a salesman, C. Harold Smith. Joseph Binney’s son, Edwin also became a salesman.

The Peekskill Chemical Works, which was also known locally as Binney's Lampblack Factory, became the Binney and Smith Company in 1888 by a name change when Joseph Binney retired and the business was taken over by C. Harold Smith and his son Edwin. Their early products were inks, dyes and shipping room supplies, which included marking crayons.     

Smith returned to England. In Newcastle he brought the American rights to a new line of red oxides of iron. This was used in the red paint used for barns throughout much of the country. The factory was along the route of the narrow gauge railroad carrying iron, and thus the available iron oxides, from the Todd and Croft mines to Annsville.

The Binney and Smith Company developed the dustless blackboard chalk. They also made carbon black used in printing ink, paints, rubber boots, stove polish, carbon paper, typewriter ribbons and early electric street arc lamps.

When the first automobile tires were grayish white from the curing process. The addition of carbon black to the natural rubber tires increased the tread life five times. The Binney and Smith Company joined with others to form the Columbian Carbon Company to market this new use for carbon black.

The Binney and Smith Company moved to Easton, Pennsylvania in 1900 to be close to the source of slate for their pencil manufacturing. The "crayola crayon" was first made and marketed in 1903.

The name "Crayola" came from Edwin Binney's wife, Alice, who had been a school teacher in the Bronx, in 1903. It is a combination of the French word "craie" for chalk and "ola" for oily or oleaginous. The first Crayola assortment was sold in 1903 for 5 cents and had eight colors.

The company has sponsored coloring contests. American artist Grant Wood won one of these contests and credited this experience with encouraging him to become an artist.

The first non-family chairman of the company was Russell J. McChesney in 1971. The company now makes Crayola crayons, chalk, modeling clay, paste, glue, paints, brushes and coloring books.

* Research Information from Colin Naylor and Kirk Moldoff. Edited and written by John J. Curran, Peekskill City Historian

CELEBRATION: In 2003, the Binney and Smith Company returned to its historic Peekskill roots. The event was the 100th anniversary of the Crayola Crayon's creation in 1903. Peekskill was one of 25 cities visited by the CRAYOLA Artrageous Tour Bus. The fun bus was located all day outside the Peekskill Museum at 124 Union Avenue.


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joshua tanner December 19, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Interesting article. Binney and Smith's parent company is now Hallmark Cards. They make Silly Putty too (discovered by accident trying to make rubber substitute in WW II according to Wiki). While I am thinking of local history - maybe someone could write about what's up with the Lent House. People were talking about it over the weekend on Facebook. It has a sign on it that says "Restoration Project" but nothing has been done. It seems to just be rotting away. There was once talk of moving the building north of the railroad station.
chuck95 December 20, 2011 at 03:44 AM
Can you be more specific as to the location? 'just past the former "rockcut" area at Annsville' I'd love to know what's there now.
John Curran December 20, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Lampbkack Hill was the original factory location inside a former tobacco barn. That site was in Annsville on the hill that rises to the north. I and a reporter for the New York Times scouted that area years ago, and found it has been disturbed when the Route 9 highway was put through. So, the answer is that we are not exactly sure where the factory was. TOM LEIGH has been a crayola enthusiast for many years, with the oversize crayons on display along Central Avenue. I too have visited the current headquarter at Easton, Pennsylvania. And yes it is interesting. They used to have a small display about the Binney-Peekskill connection, but I don't know it that is still there. Crayons are certainly an interesting & inexpensive art tool.
chuck95 December 21, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Thanks John, interesting stuff! I'd love to see more pieces about local history.
chuck95 December 21, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Also, the Peekskill mention is still in place at the crayola "factory" in PA, which I visited this summer. I uploaded a couple of pics.


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