Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Pencils

Anniversary of the Pencil Patent

Jan tells me that this is the birthday of the patented pencil. How she knows that is a mystery to me, but I decided to share it with you.

The history of the pencil is actually pretty interesting – especially why they are mostly painted yellow, but we’ll get to that a bit later. It all began with the stylus in ancient Rome and used by scribes on papyrus, an early form of paper.  Some of these were made with lead. We still often call them ‘lead’ pencils, which is not true since now most are made of non toxic graphite. These early pencils were wrapped in string, but later they were placed in hollowed wood sticks.

The birthplace of the first mass produced pencils was in 1662 in Nuremberg, Germany. America’s first wooded pencils were made in 1812 by a cabinet maker named William Monroe. Interestingly though, Henry David Thoreau was known for his pencil making prowess. The first mass-produced pencils were natural unpainted to show off the high quality wood casings.

Around 1890 many manufacturers started painting pencils – mostly a bright yellow. Today, a majority of writing pencils are painted yellow. It seems that the best graphite in the world came from China. In China the color yellow is associated with royalty and respect, and the American pencil manufacturers wanted a special way to tell people that their pencils contained Chinese graphite – thus, they painted their pencils yellow.

I love all kinds of writing instruments  -  pens and pencils, especially mechanical pencils. Unfortunately, I only have one pencil that I use for crossword puzzles. It travels from room to room with me and sometimes it’s hard to remember where it is. Last birthday Jan gave me a 50 year supply of wonderful colored pens. My birthday is in May and I’m hoping she will give me a 50 year supply of pencils. I hope she remembers to be sure they all are #2s.

By Lois Jamieson

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