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1893  History of the Lead Pencil Lead pencils, of course, contain no lead. The writing medium is graphite, a form of carbon. Writing instruments made from sticks cut from high quality natural graphite mined at Cumberland in England and wrapped in string or inserted in wooden tubes came into use around 1560. [1] The term "black lead pencil" was in use by 1565.  By 1662, pencils were produced in Nuremberg, in what is now Germany, apparently by gluing sticks of graphite into cases assembled from two pieces of wood. By the early 18 th century, wood-cased pencils that did not require the high quality graphite available only in England were produced in Nuremberg with cores made by mixing graph pen-history-timeline-rid-0.html. amazon pens for ipadite, sulfur and various binding agents. These German pencils were inferior to English pencils, which continued to be made with sticks cut from natural graphite into the 1860s.  The 1855 catalog of Waterlow & Sons, London, offered "Pure Cumberland Lead Pencils."

In 1795, French chemist Nicholas Jacques Cont
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penguins hockey radio 105.9 Visual History of the Pencil A VISUAL HISTORY OF THE PENCIL

Latin Origins

The word pencil comes from the latin, penicillum , the name for a small, fine-tipped brush used for writing, which in turn is a diminutive form of the latin word for brush,  peniculus, which in turn is a diminutive form of the Latin word penis, which means “tail.” This word was used for these very fine brushes because they were made from tufts of hair from the tails of animals.

The earliest instruments for making marks other than pen and ink on parchment, papyrus, or vellum was a metal stylus scratching into a wax-coated tablet. Codex , the Latin word for tree trunk, came to be used for the wax-coated wood tablet that became the precursor to the modern book. The sharp metal stylus was also a weapon in Roman times. Thomas, Astle, author of The Origins and Progress of Writing , describes how Caesar used a stylus to stab Cassius in the arm “in full senate,” and of the murder of Cassianus, who “was put to by his scholars, who killed him with their pugillares and styles.”


The Lead Pencil in the Middle Ages

In the Middle ages styluses of metal were used on surfaces coated with chalklike substances, and slate pencils or chalk on slate tablets were also used.  (Slate pencils continued to be sold in America into the late 19 th Century.) The mixtures of metals used for the stylus evolved, and eventually alloys of lead with tin, bismuth and mercury were developed. Styluses of two parts lead, one part tin became known as plummets . Plummets also continued to be used into the 19 th century in America, alongside pencils, goose-quills, and pens.

The earliest known description of a wood-cased lead pencil dates from a 1565 book on fossils by Konrad Gesner: “The stylus shown below is made for writing, from a sort of lead (which I have heard the English call antimony), shaved to a point and inserted into a wooden handle.”  Lead, however, dirtied the hand, made a faint mark, and required considerable pressure.


lead stylus and bread eraser


Graphite Discovery

Sometime in the 1560’s (the exact date is unknown) a chance event occurred which became the turning point in the development of the modern pencil. Local lore tells of a fierce storm In Cumberland, England, which uprooted a large ash tree (some versions of the story say oak), where shepherds discovered a strange black substance clinging to its roots. The locals quickly discovered this to be very useful for marking their sheep, and then gradually its application for writing was developed. By the end of the 16 th Century graphite was well known throughout Europe for its superior line-making qualities, its eraseability, and the ability to re-draw on top of it with ink, which is not possible with lead or charcoal. The substance was initially called Wadd, and also became known as white lead, black lead, bleiweiss, grafio piombino, bismuth, and plumbago. The Borrowdale deposit remains the only large scale deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form.


By 1610 “black lead” was sold regularly in the streets in London wrapped in paper, string or twigs. One writer of the time commented on the pleasures of taking notes with the new material:

note them with a pensil of black lead

for you may rub out againe when you will

with the crums of new wheate bred…

bread eraser  

In England in the 1700’s, in addition to being useful for writing, wadd (graphite) was also thought to have medicinal properties. In a 1704 essay Thomas Robinson explains:

Its natural Uses are both Medicinal and Mechanical. It’s a present Remedy for the Cholick; it easeth the Pain of [urinary disorders] Gravel, Stone, and Strangury…The manner of the Country People’s using it is thus: First they beat it small into Meal and then take as much of it in white Wine, or Ale, as will lie upon a sixpence, or more, if distemper require it.

It operates by Urine, Sweat, and Vomiting.

At the first discovery of it, the Neighborhood made no other use of it, but for marking their sheep, but it’s now made use of to glazen and harden Crucibles, and other vessels made of Earth or Clay, that are to endure the hottest Fire and by rubbing it upon iron arms, as guns, pistols, and the like, tinging them with its color, it preserves them from rusting.


18 th  and 19 th Century Developments

The technique for encasing the graphite in wood emerged from the woodworking craft of joiners, with the original process involving cutting a lengthwise groove into a strip of wood, gluing strips of pure Borrowdale graphite into the groove one against the next until it was filled, sawing off the protruding pieces to flattness, then gluing a piece of wood on top to cover the wadd. The wood assembly could then be used in this square shape, or shaved to a round form.

The wood cases of early American Pencils were made from Eastern Red Cedar, a strong splinter-resistant wood growing in the Southeast. By the early 1900’s however additional sources of wood were needed, and abundant California Incense Cedar soon became the wood of choice for pencil-makers around the world.  

As the desire for the pencil grew, the graphite mine in Borrowdale strictly controlled the amounts mined yearly, and populations outside of England had to search for their own alternatives. Deposits of inferior quality and purity on Continental Europe, and the need to conserve the pure Borrowdale graphite, led to the development of mixing the graphite with additives. In 1795 Frenchman Nicolas-Jaques Conté was granted a patent for his new formula of mixing clay with graphite, and varying the proportion of clay to graphite leading to pencil leads of different but uniform degrees of blackness and hardness, which remains the basis for pencil-making today.

By the Middle of the 19 th century, the Conté process of mixing graphite with clay was widely used in France, Germany and America, however those English pencils made with pure Cumberland graphite were still the world’s standard. By the late 1800’s the mine was exhausted, “good Cumberland pencils” became increasingly hard to come by.


Mechanization, Innovation

In 1847 Joseph Dixon opened a pencil and crucible factory in Jersey City. At first the crucibles were the main and profitable business, but in 1866 Dixon patented a wood-planing machine capable of producing wood for 132 pencils per minute, and by 1873 the Dixon graphite mixing process had improved. The clever marketing of the pencil as an AMERICAN product made here at home (verses the products of German pencil manufacturers who were trying to move in and dominate the american market) made Dixon “the birthplace of the world’s first mass-produced pencils. These innovations proved timely, as the demand for pencils grew exponentially with the Civil War.

By the end of the 19th century over 240,000 pencils were used each day in the US.


Pencil sales in the United States increased 6.8 percent in 2011, according to a study by the NPD Group. A major beneficiary is Dixon Ticonderoga, the world’s largest pencil manufacturer. Each year, they produce an estimated 1.5 billion pencils, the bulk of which— about 1 billion—are yellow No. 2 pencils used by standardized test-takers around the world. Placed point-to-eraser, those 1 billion No. 2s would circle the globe nearly five times.



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Transcript of Pencil timeline Pencil timeline
November 1500
Graphite was found but not noticed how important it was
October 1564
Graphite was discovered by a storm knocking down an oak tree. The area around the oak tree found a large graphite deposit!
November 1565
Wrapping the Graphite in String.
They found it very flimsy and hard to handle with, so someone decided to wrap string around it.
November 1662
The Germans Created a Graphite Stick
Using powdered graphite, the Germans invent a graphite stick used for writing.
November 1699
The Wood Pencil
Italians add wood to the outside of the graphite sticks, somewhat resembling the modern day pencil.
November 1795
Discovered the Process of Mixing Graphite with Clay.
Nicholas Jacques Conte of France discovered the process of mixing graphite with clay. This mixture was placed in a kiln fire, which produced a great writing material. Then the kiln fire, strips were cut and placed into wood.
November 1812
Firt Use of the Wooden Pencil.
William Monroe, a Concord Massachusetts cabinet maker is named the first person using the wooden pencil.
November 1858
The First Eraser at the Tip of the Pencil
Hymen Lipman received the credit for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil.
November 1861
British royalty take over the Grey Knolls deposit.
After realizing its usefulness in lining cannonballs, the British royalty take over the Grey Knolls deposit.
November 1988
Stopped Using Ink and Quills
After the wooden pencil arived, nobody wanted to use the ink and quill anymore except for the roylaty.
November 1890
They Started to Color the Pencils a Brighter Color.
In China, the color yellow is associated with royalty and respect. American pencil manufacturers began painting their pencils bright yellow to make a "regal" feeling and association with China.
November 1920
Colored Pencils Were Invented.
Colored pencils were invented by Fabor Company lcated in Stein, Germany.
November 2005
The Pencil Now!
The pencil we use now is thin and long. We use it to make lines, it can shade large areas, make dots, we use the eraser on the end and of course writing and drawing.
Technology monthly work
Yaneth Rosales
Catalina Seturino Garcia
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