In Praise of the Pencil

March 30 is official “Pencil Day,” so in honor of the occasion, I thought I’d share a few facts about the history of pencils.

1. The pencil originated in ancient Rome, where scholars and others used lead rods (in the singular, known as a stylus) to write on parchment.

2. Graphite leaves a larger mark on paper (and fewer dead brain cells) than lead, so after the 16th century discovery of large graphite deposits in England most pencils switched from lead to graphite cores.  (Ironically, many people still refer to pencil “leads,” proving that languages, like old dogs, are slow to learn new tricks.)

3. The first mass-produced pencils were manufactured in Germany (in or around 1662) and the first pencils manufactured in the United States were produced in Concord, Massachusetts by cabinet maker William Monroe.  (Little known fact: Henry David Thoreau also had some mad pencil-making skills.)

4. Early pencil makers used expensive and beautiful wood to encase the graphite core, and left the pencils unpainted to show off the decorative casings. As cheaper woods came into use, manufacturers began using paint to disguise the cheaper construction. Many producers painted their pencils yellow to indicate that the product contained more expensive Chinese graphite (since yellow is associated with respect in Chinese culture).

5. Some of the most organized people I know use pencils. The fact that I do not use them probably doesn’t explain my lack of organization, but it might be indicative of deeper issues.

Know something more about pencils? Hop in the comments and share.

*Pencil facts researched at Pencil History.