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History of Pencil.

Invention of the Pencil.

The "lead" pencil (which contains no lead) was invented in 1564 when a huge graphite (black carbon) mine was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria, England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square rods. The graphite rods were inserted into hand-carved wooden holders, forming pencils. They were called lead pencils by mistake - at the time, the newly-discovered graphite was called black lead or "plumbago," from the Latin word for lead ore - it looked and acted like lead, and it was not known at the time that graphite consisted of carbon and not lead. The English had a monopoly on the production of pencils since no other pure graphite mines were known and no one had yet found a way to make graphite sticks.

The Germans manufactured graphite sticks (made from powdered graphite), but they were impractical. In 1795, the Nicholas Jacques Conte (a French officer in Napoleon's army) patented the modern method of kiln-firing powdered graphite with clay to make graphite rods for pencils. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, the hardness of the graphite can also vary.

Before the mid-1500s, "pencils" consisted of a thin rod composed of soft lead, and were used mostly by artists. The word pencil comes from the Latin word "penicillus," which means "little tail" - the name of the tiny brush that ancient Romans used as a writing instrument. Graphite (named for the Greek word meaning "to write") was chemically analyzed in 1779 (by K.W. Scheele) and named in 1789 (by A.G. Werner).

Charles Marie de la Condamine, a French scientist and explorer, was the first European to bring back the natural substance called "India" rubber. He brought a sample to the Institute de France in Paris in 1736. South American Indian tribes used rubber to making bouncing playing balls and as an adhesive for attaching feathers and other objects to their bodies.

In 1770, the noted scientist Sir Joseph Priestley (discoverer of oxygen) recorded the following, "I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of wiping from paper the mark of black lead pencil." Europeans were rubbing out pencil marks with the small cubes of rubber, the substance that Condamine had brought to Europe from South America. They called their erasers "peaux de negres". However, rubber was not an easy substance to work with because it went bad very easily -- just like food, rubber would rot. English engineer, Edward Naime is also credited with the creation of the first eraser in 1770. Before rubber, breadcrumbs had been used to erase pencil marks. Naime claims he accidentally picked up a piece of rubber instead of his lump of bread and discovered the possibilities, he went on to sell the new rubbing out devices or rubbers.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear discovered a way to cure rubber and make it a lasting and useable material. He called his process vulcanization, after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. In 1844, Goodyear patented his process. With the better rubber available, erasers became quite common.

The first patent for attaching an eraser to a pencil was issued in 1858 to a man from Philadelphia named Hyman Lipman. This patent was later held to be invalid because it was merely the combination of two things, without a new use.

At first penknives were used to sharpen pencils. They got their name from the fact that they were first used to shape feather quills used as early pens. In 1828, Bernard Lassimone, a French mathematician applied for a patent (French patent #2444) on an invention to sharpen pencils. However, it was not until 1847 that Therry des Estwaux first invented the manual pencil sharpener, as we know it.

John Lee Love of Fall River, MA designed the "Love Sharpener." Love's invention was the very simple, portable pencil sharpener that many artists use. The pencil is put into the opening of the sharpener and rotated by hand, and the shavings stay inside the sharpener. Love's sharpener was patented on November 23, 1897 (U.S. Patent # 594,114). Four years earlier, Love created and patented his first invention, the "Plasterer's Hawk." This device, which is still used today, is a flat square piece of board made of wood or metal, upon which plaster or mortar was placed and then spread by plasterers or masons. This was patented on July 9, 1895.

One source claims that the Hammacher Schlemmer Company of New York offered the world's first electric pencil sharpener designed by Raymond Loewy, sometime in the early 1940s.

In 1861, Eberhard Faber built the first pencil factory in the United States in New York City.

The Early Days.

Modern pencils are the descendants of ancient writing instruments.

In ancient Rome, scribes wrote on papyrus (an early form of paper) with a thin metal rod called a stylus, which left a light but readable mark. Other early styluses were made of lead. Today we still call the core of a pencil the "lead" even though it is made from nontoxic graphite. Graphite came into widespread use following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in Borrowdale, England in 1564. Graphite left a darker mark than lead, but was so soft and brittle that it required a holder. At first, sticks of graphite were wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into wooden sticks that had been hollowed-out by hand! The wood-cased pencil was born.

The first mass-produced pencils were made in Nuremberg, Germany in 1662. Until the war with England cut off imports, pencils used in America came from overseas. (William Monroe, a cabinetmaker in Concord, Massachusetts, made the first American wood pencils in 1812.) Benjamin Franklin advertised pencils for sale in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. George Washington used a three-inch pencil when he surveyed the Ohio Territory in 1762.

The first mass-produced pencils were unpainted, to show off their high-quality wood casings. However, by the 1890s, many manufacturers were painting their pencils and giving them brand names.

Early American pencils were made from Eastern Red Cedar, a strong, splinter-resistant wood that grew in Tennessee and other parts of the southeastern United States. By the 1900s, pencil manufacturers needed additional sources of wood, and turned to California's Sierra Nevada mountains. There they found Incense-cedar, a species that grew in abundance and made superior pencils. California Incense-cedar soon became the wood of choice for domestic and international pencil makers.

To ensure the continued availability of Incense-cedar, forest workers have carefully managed the stands of trees in which Incense-cedar grows, and timber companies have been careful to harvest the trees on a sustained-yield basis. "Sustained-yield" means that the annual growth of the forest is greater than the amount harvested from the forest. Forests managed on a sustained-yield basis are abundant and healthy, and will continue to provide wood for people and habitat for animals for generations to come

  1. Incense-cedar logs are cut into "Pencil Blocks."
  2. Pencil Blocks are cut into "Pencil Slats."
  3. Pencil Slats are treated with wax and stain.
  4. A machine cuts grooves into the slats to accept the writing core (or "lead").
  5. Writing cores -- made from a mixture of graphite and clay -- are placed into the grooves.
  6. A second grooved slat is glued onto the first -- making a "sandwich."
  7. The sandwich is machined into pencil shapes.
  8. Individual pencils are cut from the sandwich,and are sanded smooth.
  9. Each pencil is painted.A recess is cut to accept the ferrule(the metal ring that holds the eraser to the pencil).
  10. A A ferrule and eraser are crimped into place on each pencil.

Story Of Graphite

The center of the pencil -- known as the writing core -- is made of a nontoxic mineral called graphite./>
Graphite came into widespread in the 16th century, following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in Borrowdale, England. As the story goes, a passerby found bits of shiny, black graphite clinging to the roots of a fallen tree. The whole countryside was abuzz with talk about this mysterious mineral, which soon came to be known as "plumbago" or, more commonly, "Blacklead."

Graphite left a dark mark, making it ideal for use by writers and artists. But it was so soft and brittle that it required a holder. At first, sticks of graphite were wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into wooden sticks that had been hollowed-out by hand! The wood-cased pencil was born.

Graphite in America.

In 1821, Charles Dunbar (the brother-in-law of author Henry David Thoreau) discovered a graphite deposit in New England. This graphite was certified as far superior to any previously found in the United States. With this high-quality material for its writing cores, the Thoreau pencil company came to be known as the maker of the finest pencils in America.

Graphite in Siberia.

While searching for gold in the streams of Siberia, French merchant Jean Pierre Alibert came upon some very round, very smooth pieces of pure graphite. Reasoning that they must have been carried a long distance downstream, Alibert trekked some 270 miles until he found the source of his discovery.

Alibert had supplies packed in by reindeer to set up a mine at this mountainous site near the Chinese border. During the first seven years of operation, the mine produced graphite of marginal quality. Then a rich and unbroken deposit of the highest-quality graphite was uncovered, a find that yielded pieces of pure ore weighing as much as 80 pounds! Pencils using Asian graphite were painted yellow as an indication of the source of the superior material in the writing core.

Today's writing cores are a mixture of graphite and clay.By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, pencil makers can adjust the "hardness" of the writing core.

The The hardness of the core is often marked on the pencil -- look for a number (such as "2" or "3"). The higher the number the harder the writing core. You might see other markings on pencils. Some pencil manufacturers use the letter "H" to indicate a hard pencil. Likewise, a pencil maker might use the letter "B" to designate the blackness of the pencil's mark. The letter "F" is also used to indicate that the pencil sharpens to a fine point.

Pencil makers also use combinations of letters -- a pencil marked "HB" is hard and black; a pencil marked "HH" is very hard, and a pencil marked "HHBBB" is very hard and really, really black!

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