Tickle Me Pink: The Making of a Crayola Miracle

Richard Crayola, photographed shortly after shaving his signature mustache in 1926.

The year was 1925 and the air was saturated with booze, liquor, and alcohol. Skirts were rising, cigarettes were glowing, and a young whippersnapper named Richard Crayola sauntered through the fairgrounds with his mustache twirled to perfection and his straw hat tilted at the jauntiest of angles.

“Call me Dick,” he would say with a grin to anyone who asked. He would also say this to people who didn’t ask, the soon-to-be-prize pigs waiting their turn in the spotlight, and several fence posts.

Raised on a farm in Kansas, this young Dick had started out as a man of small means, but he more than made up for the emptiness of his pockets with the vigor of his efforts to clamber on top of the social ladder, to master what had once mastered him, to dominate with each new thrust of the pencil—for that’s what he was, a caricature artist—the chaotic, swirling mess of Jazz Age Chicago.

For a long time, Richard Crayola had contented himself with the cheap pencils he could buy a dime a dozen at the local general store. They were flimsy little tools that often broke off at the ends before the job was done, forcing our hero to run through several pencils just to complete a single caricature sketch. As little Dick surveyed the landscape of that fair in July of 1925, he realized that all of his strivings for personal and professional climax would be fruitless if he continued to use subpar tools.

Musing on this question, Dick Crayola decided to treat himself to a funnel cake. The funnel cake seller, a young woman by the name of Virginia, had run out of the paper wrappers normally used to encase the greasy sweets, so she handed Dick his dessert in a cone of pink wax. To this day, scholars are baffled as to why Virginia was in possession of such high quality pink wax to begin with, but there is unanimous agreement on the fortuitous results.

Richard Crayola, after consuming his funnel cake, crumpled the pink wax wrapper in his hands and began kneading it back and forth absentmindedly, as one does when deep in thought after licking the last traces of powdered sugar off one’s fingertips. It was a hot day, and the wax was pliable under his touch. In no time at all, Dick looked down at the pink rod in his hands and found himself filled with an ecstasy he had never before experienced.

True to the slang of the period, Richard was heard to exclaim, “Well, tickle me pink!” It wasn’t long before Dick ditched his inadequate stack of pencils for a mighty fistful of crayons. Soon after that, he launched the school supply empire we know today as Crayola, and while there are scores of wildly imaginative color names in a box set of 64 crayons (this author is particularly impressed by “purple mountains’ majesty,” and even more so by “green”), it is said that Richard Crayola maintained until his dying day that his favorite crayon was “Tickle Me Pink.”

By: Cary Chapman