Each year, March 30th is National Pencil Day. Hymen Lipman received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil on this day in 1858.
Graphite came into widespread use following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in Borrowdale, England in 1564. Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder. Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-cased pencil was born!
Nuremberg, Germany was the birthplace of the first mass-produced pencils in 1662.
Early settlers depended on pencils from overseas until the war with England cut off imports. William Monroe, a Concord, Massachusetts cabinet-maker, is credited with making America’s first wood pencils in 1812. Another Concord native, famous author Henry David Thoreau, was also renowned for his pencil-making prowess.
The majority of these writing utensils made in the United States are painted yellow.
Check out this “Graphite Grading Explained“ article!
Notable pencil users
- Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci frequently sketched in pencil.
- Founding father and printer by trade, Benjamin Franklin, advertised pencils for sale in his Pennsylvania Gazette as far back as 1729.
- Before leading the American Revolution and becoming first president, George Washington used a three-inch pencil to survey the Ohio Territory in 1762.
- When Meriwether Lewis set out with William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase, his packing list of mathematical instruments and other supplies included “1 Set of Small Slates & pencils”.
- Henry David Thoreau may be best known for writing Walden, but back in the day, he held the reputation of manufacturing the hardest, blackest pencils in the United States!
- President Ulysses S. Grant is said to have preferred to sketch out battle plans in pencil when he was a General for the Union Army during the Civil War. Pencils were standard issue for soldiers as well.
- One of Thomas Edison’s brightest ideas was to keep a three-inch-long pencil in his vest pocket just to jot down notes!
- John Steinbeck, who wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Cannery Row”, used as many as 60 cedar pencils every day! His novel East of Eden took more than 300 pencils to write.
- Ernest Hemingway, author of “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, also favored cedar pencils for writing down thoughts and for taking notes while reporting on the Spanish Civil War.
- Vladimir Nabokov rewrote everything he had ever published, usually several times, by pencil.
- Vincent van Gogh used only Faber pencils as they were “superior to Carpenters pencils, a capital black and most agreeable.”
- Johnny Carson regularly played with pencils at his Tonight Show desk. These pencils were specially made with erasers at both ends to avoid on-set accidents.
- Roald Dahl used only pencils with yellow casing to write his books. He had six sharpened pencils ready at the beginning of each day and only when all six became unusable did he resharpen them.