Innovative Spirit

The Patents Behind Seven Classic Back-to-School Supplies

From backpacks to crayons, every piece of gear has an invention story

(John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
smithsonian.com

It’s hard to think about back to school when it’s still steamy outside and the sun seems to beg, like our kids, to stay out late. But here we are: mid-August, school just a few short days or weeks away. As you’re gathering school supplies, consider their histories. Someone invented that crayon sharpener, that ball point pen, whether in a corporate lab or on a messy suburban kitchen table. Here are some of the patents behind our most beloved back-to-school necessities.

Crayon Boxes with a Sharpener

Dull crayons were banished more than 60 years ago, thanks to this 1958 patent for a crayon box with a built-in sharpener. The patent was granted to three employees of Binney & Smith, now known as Crayola LLC, which has been selling crayons since the early 1900s. The 64-color box with the sharpener is so iconic it’s part of the collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

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