Corrections or additions?
This article by Caroline Cologero was prepared for the August 15,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Color Us Disappointed
Fans of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood have all seen the
clip of crayons being manufactured on Crayola’s production line.
colored molten liquid is squirted through perforated molds and emerges
as perfect miniature columns. Once cooled, women in aprons scoop them
up by the handful and load them into large wooden crates. Labels are
glued on. Finally, they are boxed and sent off. Watching TV, you can
almost smell the wax.
I’ve always been a sucker for a tour of a factory. It seems that
is almost extinct nowadays, an exotic occupation for all but robots.
And the paper-pushing and service-providing activities of us real
humans just don’t have the same cachet. The opportunity to get a
at the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania, was a tantalizing
prospect. After all, just opening a new box of crayons can make many
any one of us feel young again.
We tagged our visit onto the end of a family reunion trip to Knobels,
the down-home amusement park located between Allentown and State
in the vast midsection of Pennsylvania. My suspicions should have
been aroused as we drove into the middle of Easton. I saw none of
the grim signs of ongoing manufacturing — like big warehouses,
loading locks, and truck traffic.
Instead, the town has a "tres chic" look about it with
walkways and cute restaurants. But with a caravan of 14 people in
tow, including 8 kids ranging in age from 8 months to 13 years, I
ignored these warning signs and plowed onward.
My assessment: The Crayola Factory is a "Mc-experience" —
lots of packaging but little nutritive value. Our peek at the
process of crayons and markers was showcased behind Plexiglas walls
during demonstrations held throughout the day. Watching these products
being made is but a minor part of the offerings.
During the marker-making demo that we attended on a Tuesday in June,
the crowd stood three deep, kids squirming forward to get a better
look. Watching the markers roll around the assembly line to completion
was fascinating, even in this contrived setting. At its conclusion,
the attendant exchanged one of the two tokens we had received after
payment of the $8 admission charge for a green marker.
The crayon production kiosk was out of order. But the kids did get
to insert their second token into a see-through vending machine and
"purchase" their own package of four Cayola crayons.
Once upon a time, from 1985 to 1992, tourists could
glimpse the real thing — a tour of the crayon and marker
site located seven miles from Easton in Forks Township. The Crayola
Factory, which opened in 1996, was Binney & Smith’s answer to limited
accommodations at the plant. Although 20,000 people visited the actual
factory each year, an equal number had to be turned away.
These attendance figures look like child’s play now. Rick Nann,
of marketing for the Crayola Factory and the National Canal Museum,
which occupies the third floor of the same building, predicts 70,000
adults and children will visit in August alone, the attraction’s
Besides making crayons, most of the activities at the Crayola Factory
are rather ordinary. The arts and crafts are similar to those
daily in any good nursery school. The other offerings duplicate those
of many children’s museums.
The whole experience represents a marketer’s wildest dream —
pay for the privilege of being shown your wares and are then allowed
to purchase the goods right next door, where a 7,200-square-foot
Store is handily ensconced. To complete the picture, a McDonald’s
fast-food outlet is adjacent on the first floor.
At the Factory children can make art projects by stopping at several
stations each featuring a different product such as Model Magic,
alternative to the crumbly mess of Play-doh. Given a white,
lump of this modeling material and access to a pile of markers to
color the stuff, participants are left to create. We made butterflies,
very small dolls, and even captured the footprint of my
At tables of colored pencils, glue, and an assortment of different
papers, children were urged to make a hat. My 13-year-old son and
the 11-year-olds in our group deigned to participate, but the activity
of pasting and coloring paper remained profoundly commonplace.
Breaking through years of behavioral conditioning not to color on
the walls, kids are invited to scribble on high curved glass walls
at Crayola. Some left a small picture or even some graffiti.
Another area offered a clear slide to be embellished and then
onto the wall-size screen. In the tradition of Kilroy, my son left
his mark with a message of "Anthony was here" emblazoned in
There is the requisite plastic fruit stand for the toddlers that
a ground level bed of plastic carrots to pull and replant at will.
Nearby children stood inside a room-sized box, open on two sides.
Their movements were recorded and projected instantly as brightly
colored shadows onto a giant screen. This was the favorite activity
of my 8-year-old niece, Victoria.
The kids did enjoy the activities, but the company’s self promotion
is ceaseless, leaving all but the littlest ones in our group with
the impression that the Crayola Factory is really just an interactive
My 11-year-old niece, Patricia, likened the tour to a giant
My daughter Marie, also age 11, concurred. "You could have done
all that stuff at home," she said. The two girls made further
unfavorable comparisons between the Crayola Factory and the more
experience of watching money being coined at the U.S. Mint in
And the hype does abound. Visitors are encouraged to put their samples
and art work into a free "activity bag," actually a clear
plastic sack with cutout holes for handles.
A notable silver lining of our trip was visiting the National Canal
Museum located on the floor above the Crayola Factory. (The museum
is included in the price of admission.) Here we were offered a look
at an obscure but interesting slice of the history, best for those
at least approaching middle school age and older. We walked around
the full-size living quarters of a canal boat, operated a canal lock,
and read about the lives of those who worked on the inland waterways.
At the Crayola Factory the crowds can be ferocious. Even the recorded
telephone message warns that showing up is no guarantee of getting
in. Yet it seems silly to brave the drive, the hordes, and fork over
the admission fee for an experience that can be virtually duplicated
at a kitchen table. My recommendation: forgo the car ride and spend
the admission money on a rainbow of freshly-minted art supplies.
— Caroline Calogero
Admission $8 adults & children; $7.50 seniors 65 and older; children
under 2 free. Summer hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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