This Week from Bedtime Math: Color Factory

Did you ever wonder how they make crayons? A single machine can make hundreds every minute. And that adds up to a lot of crayons to roll under the couch.
By Laura Overdeck
Apr 30, 2013



Apr 30, 2013

If you visit eastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you can head to the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA and watch genuine crayon-making machines in action. Melted wax as thin and sloshy as water gets poured into hundreds of tiny circular tubes, then cools and gets dumped out as smooth, colorful sticks of wax. Then the machine in this photo rolls those red crayons against the blue wheel to slap glue and paper on them.

The wrapped crayons tumble out the bottom, all pointy and ready to be shoved into boxes. A digital sign counts off how many crayons Crayola has ever made, and it’s way into the billions. As we’ll see here, it’s taken a ton of work since 1903 to make that happen.

Wee ones (counting on fingers): If the factory is making 3 colors of crayons today, and they pop out in a repeating order – lime green, macaroni-n-cheese, wild strawberry, lime green, and so on – what color will the 7th crayon be?

Little kids: In the old days, workers would glue the paper wrapper onto each crayon by hand, gluing about 10-15 per minute. If you try it and you can glue 11 crayons in a minute, how many can you glue in 3 minutes? Bonus: Today the machine in that picture wraps 200 crayons every minute! How many can the machine wrap in 3 minutes?

Big kids: At the start of the demonstration, Crayola had made about 146,037,432,000 crayons – that’s 146 billion, 37 million, 432 thousand crayons! 15 minutes later, the sign said about 146,037,500,000 crayons. Don’t worry about the whole beginning part – in getting from 432 thousand to 500 thousand, how many thousands of crayons were made in those 15 minutes? Bonus: Crayola hit the 1-billion crayon mark in 1996. How many years ago was that?

A message from Laura:   Bedtime Math is a simple idea: we all know we should read to our kids at night, but what about math?   My husband and I have done fun, mischief-loaded math problems with our kids at night for years.  When at age 2, our third child started hollering for his own math problem, we realized we were onto something:  In a world where so many people say “Ewww, math!”, we had created a household culture where kids don’t just tolerate math, they actually seek it out.   Now we email parents a fun, lively math problem every day to do with their kids – and every week, we’ll be posting a new problem right here on Scholastic Parents! 


Wee ones: The 7th crayon will be lime green.

Little kids: 33 crayons. Bonus: 600 crayons.

Big kids: 68 thousand crayons (68,000). Bonus: 16 years – and 145 billion more crayons made.

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