Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Robbins, Dan

Dan Robbins is the inventor of the paint by number craft system. Born in Detroit on May 26, 1925, Robbins attended Cass Technical High School where he fostered his love of art. After serving in the army, he made his living by creating washable paint sets for children. Many Americans saw an increase in available leisure time following World War II and took up new hobbies. Max Klein, president of the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit, was looking for an idea to increase the demand for his paint. Robbins and Klein partnered to create a product that would make anyone an artist.

Robbins conceived the idea for paint by number in 1949 after being inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, who would hand out numbered patterns to his apprentices. In 1951 he created the initial six kits for the Palmer Paint Company under the “Craft Master” label. Sales were slow at first, but clever marketing soon drove the kits’ popularity skyward. By 1954 twelve million sets had been sold. Robbins recruited other high-profile artists, including Adam Grant, to create a continually expanding line of paint by number kits that included landscapes and seascapes, animals, religious subjects, and a line of “Masterpieces” such as their best-selling kit, The Last Supper.

Before long, Robbins had gone from working as a freelance contractor to the head of art direction for the most profitable division of the Palmer Paint Company, leaving an impact on the world of American hobbyists and art enthusiasts. Although the paint by number craze peaked in the early to mid-1950s, kits are still available. In 2001, The National Museum of American History held an exhibition on the paint by number fad.



"Craft Master" paint by number by Dan Robbins

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