A Colorful History

The beginnings of coloring books are rooted in the idea of making art education accessible to everyone and as a valuable learning tool. This holds true to my beliefs and is one of the main reasons I started Nikki August: to encourage the arts in education and inspire creativity. 

Here's a bit of history:

The Early Days:

The origins of coloring books can be traced back to the 17th century. British artist Joshua Reynolds and Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and his student Friedrich Fröbel concluded that all students, regardless of background, would benefit from art education. They recognized the benefits of using coloring as a tool for learning. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the first recognizable coloring books emerged. These early versions were simple and hand-painted, often serving as primers for teaching geography and history.


The McLoughlin Brothers and the Golden Age:

In the late 19th century, the McLoughlin Brothers are credited as the inventors of the coloring book. In the 1880s, the brothers created The Little Folks’ Painting Book with Kate Greenaway. The affordability of these books marked the beginning of a golden age for coloring enthusiasts, making the activity accessible to a broader audience. The McLoughlin Brothers continued to publish coloring books until the 1920s when they became part of the Milton Bradley Company.


Another coloring book pioneer was Richard F Outcault. He created Buster Brown in 1902 and featured this character in his book, Buster’s Paint Book, in 1907. This launched a trend of using coloring books to advertise various products, including coffee, pianos, Buster Brown shoes, and Mary Janes shoes, named after Buster’s girlfriend. Initially, these books were designed to be painted instead of colored. Even after crayons were invented in the 1930s, the books were still designed to be painted or colored. 

Educational Coloring Takes Center Stage:
As the 20th century continued, coloring books evolved beyond entertainment. Educators and psychologists recognized the cognitive and developmental benefits of coloring in fostering creativity and improving fine motor skills. They are also used to help motivate students’ understanding of concepts that they would otherwise be uninterested in. Coloring books became integral tools in early childhood education, combining fun with learning.

Pop Culture and Specialty Themes:

The mid-20th century witnessed the explosion of coloring books tied to popular culture, featuring beloved characters from cartoons, movies, and television shows. This shift transformed coloring books into sought-after collectibles. Additionally, specialty themes emerged, catering to diverse interests, from nature and animals to complex geometric patterns designed for adults.


The Digital Age:

The digital age has recently introduced new dimensions to the coloring book experience. Online platforms and apps allow users to bring illustrations to life with a tap of their screens, providing a modern twist to this age-old pastime.


From humble hand-painted primers to today’s diverse and intricate designs, the history of coloring books mirrors the ever-evolving relationship between creativity and education. Coloring books have and continue to inspire imagination, foster learning, and bring joy to people of all ages.

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