Bits of Life

Pencils

Posted on: March 30, 2016

Pencils – http://pencils.com/pencil-history/

The first mass produced pencils occurred in Nurnberg.
This article about pencils relieved me of a 5th grade guilt.  In Fort Knox I went to Crittenburger school and sat next to Forest Blue.  I had a crush on him and did a typical 10 year old thing.  While teasing each other I stabbed him on the arm with my pencil.  My teacher moved him to the other side of the room and I was embarrassed and so afraid he would get lead poisoning.  At last I learned this morning that he couldn’t have gotten it.  But, alas, my budding crush was smashed by the pencil

On this day in 1858, Hymen Lipman of Philadelphia patented the first pencil to have an attached eraser. The eraser-tipped pencil is still something of an American phenomenon; most European pencils are still eraserless. The humble pencil has a long and storied history, going back to the Roman stylus, which was sometimes made of lead, and why we still call the business end of the pencil the “lead,” even though it’s been made of nontoxic graphite since 1564.

Pencils were first mass-produced in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1662, and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century really allowed the manufacture to flourish. Before he became known for Walden and “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau and his father were famous for manufacturing the hardest, blackest pencils in the United States. Edison was fond of short pencils that fit neatly into a vest pocket, readily accessible for the jotting down of ideas. John Steinbeck loved the pencil and started every day with 24 freshly sharpened ones; it’s said that he went through 300 pencils in writing East of Eden (1952), and used 60 a day on The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Cannery Row (1945).

Our common pencils are hexagonal to keep them from rolling off the table, and they’re yellow because the best graphite came from China, and yellow is traditionally associated with Chinese royalty. A single pencil can draw a line 35 miles long, or write around 45,000 words. And if you make a mistake, thanks to Hymen Lipman, you’ve probably got an eraser handy.

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