This Is Why Most Blackboards Are Green, Not Black

When you picture the blackboard from your school years, what color is it? Chances are, it's green.

chalkboardZurijeta/Shutterstock

Picture a traditional classroom: apple on the teacher’s desk, student writing on the chalkboard. Now think back to your real classroom growing up. Chances are, the blackboard was green. So what’s up with the name?

Originally, blackboards really were black. Before wall-sized chalkboards existed, late 18th-century students used their own mini boards made of slate or painted wood, according to Concordia University. Those first boards were, in fact, black, and they paved the way for the larger ones.

The massive, wall-sized chalkboards arrived in 1800 when a Scottish headmaster named James Pillans wanted his students to draw maps, according to Slate’s excerpt of Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom. The students couldn’t fit the maps their teacher wanted on their tiny boards, so Pillans put a bunch of slates together to create a single, large board. Problem solved! Looking for more education trivia? Find out why apples are associated with teachers.

From there, the idea spread quickly as teachers could finally show a concept to the whole class at one time. By 1815, the massive writing spaces were common enough to earn their own name: blackboard. Manufacturers saw how important they were and by 1840, giant pieces of slate were being shipped to American and European schools.

The color change came in the 1960s when companies sold steel plates coated with green porcelain-based enamel instead of the traditional dark slate. The new material was lighter and less fragile than the first blackboards, so they were cheaper to ship and more likely to survive the journey. Teachers weren’t complaining either. After all, the new “greenboards” made the chalk powder easier to erase fully. Plus, the enamel left less of a glare and the color was nicer to look at. Despite their advantages, learn the scientific reason the sound of nails on a chalkboard is so annoying.

At that point, people started using the word “chalkboard” as a more accurate descriptor, but “blackboard” still stuck around. Not that you’d see many blackboards in modern classrooms. Most schools use whiteboards with an erasable marker, and at least 60 percent of teachers even have access to Smart Boards that let them write on a projected computer display. The times, they are a’changing. Now that you know why blackboards are green, read about these other things you’ve probably never thought about—until just now.

[Source: Mental Floss]

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.