In 1885, Binney took control of his father's business, Peeksill Chemical Co. While experimenting with a mixture of slate waste, cement, and talc, Binney created the first dustless white chalk. The invention was awarded a gold medal at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. It was only one year later, in 1905, that Binney & Smith produced the first box of Crayola crayons.
Edwin Binney was also a community activist. He was responsible for Fort Pierce, Florida, becoming a port city, and in 1929 kept the St. Lucie County Bank from succumbing to the poor economic conditions prevalent at that time.
In 1905, Binney and Smith had already invented a new wax crayon used to mark crates and barrels, but it was loaded with carbon black and too toxic for use by children. They were confident that the pigment and wax mixing techniques they had developed could be adapted to make safe wax crayons in a variety of colors. Binney also created the idea of black tires, again using carbon black, which strengthens the rubber and makes it more thermally conductive.
Binney's wife Alice came up with the name for the crayons by combining two French words, "craie" meaning chalk in French and "ola" short for "oléagineux" meaning oily since the crayons were made of petroleum based wax.
He was born in Westchester County, New York.
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