Once Upon a Time, a man named Dan Robbins had a brilliant idea: to create a kit where everyone could be an artist. He thought of his childhood days of painting and remembered how Michelangelo had numbered sections of his paintings so his students could help him. Dan went running to his boss, Max Klein at Palmer Paint Company, who wasn't so sure the idea was a hit. See, there was already a paint by numbers product by Picture Craft Company, on the market for soldiers, but these painting's images were a mystery until they were painted.
Picture Craft Co.'s paintings needed some help to appeal to more people, and they asked Klein to help. The original kits included a rolled canvas, a palate, and oil paints in tiny capsules. The kits were assembled, but Picture Craft Co. didn't show up with the money. With a warehouse full of painting kits, Palmer Paint Company called Dan Robbins in and asked him to help. Dan created Abstract No.1,
but Palmer's Paint Co. thought it was too ugly to sell, so the first CraftMaster kit was “The Fishermen”.
The roan to success was a bumps including the first kits sold to K-mart (Kresge) had the paints for kit A in kit B and vice versa. They tried making personalized paint by number kits, but miscalculated how much production would cost. Ultimately the canvas and oil paints prevented them from ever turning a profit. In 1955 Palmer Paint Company filed for bankruptsy and CraftMasters was bought by Donofrio brothers, who had produced the containers the CraftMaster's paint was packaged in. Upon taking over, CraftMaster Paint by Numbers were printed in light blue on board and sold with acrylic paint.
So why was it so popular in the 1950s? There was a post-war philosophy that having a hobby made life worth living. Hobbies implied you had time for leisure. Many celebrities including Frank Sinatra took up painting (by numbers) and Paint by Numbers by J. Edgar Hoover and Nelson Rockefeller hung in the West Wing alongside original pieces.