Backpacks are zipped, lunch is packed and now it’s time for your first patent history lesson of the new school year– a brief history of back-to-school supplies.

As you’re gathering school supplies, consider the intellectual property behind them.  Whether it’s the crayon sharpener or the flexible ruler, here are some of the patents behind the most beloved classroom necessities.

Crayon Sharpener 

Thanks to this 1958 patent for a crayon box with a built-in sharpener, dull crayons will never be an issue in the classroom. 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.

Flexible Ruler 

Rulers are as ancient as civilization, with measuring rods excavated from Mesopotamian and Indus Valley archeological sites. This 1902 patent, granted to Frank Hunt of Buffalo, New York, is for the first flexible ruler, which lets users mark straight lines on curved surfaces. It’s a forerunner of the little bendy plastic strips in math classrooms across the country.


It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the backpack became a school staple. Before that, students carried books with leather book straps or satchels similar to today’s messenger bags. The backpack’s journey towards the schoolkid classic began in the 1920s when Lloyd “Trapper” Nelson patented a pack based on Inuit sealskin and wood designs he’d encountered when hiking in Alaska. Backpacks got zippers in the 1930s and came out in nylon in the 1960s. Popular backpack brand, JanSport, began marketing a contemporary version to college students in the 1970s. Now, backpacks come in all shapes and sizes and even on wheels.

Magic Markers

The first marker, consisting of an ink-filled tube with a felt tip, was patented in 1910 by Lee Newman.  In 1944, Walter J. De Groft patented a “marking pen” that held ink in liquid form in its handle and used a felt tip. This is the patent that will become a “Sharpie” pen in 1964. The first modern and usable marker pen was Sidney Rosenthal’s “Magic Marker” which he invented and started selling in 1953. This marker had a glass tube of ink for a body and a felt wick. Its name comes from the fact that it was able to write on any surface.


Although school supplies have changed and evolved through the years, the original designs can still be appreciated today.

Suiter Swantz IP is a full-service intellectual property law firm providing client-centric patenttrademark, and copyright services. If you need assistance with an intellectual property matter and would like to speak with one of our attorneys, please contact us at