Little Bits of History

Pencil plus

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2010


March 30, 1858: US Patent number 19,783 is granted to Hyman L. Lipman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a pencil with an eraser attached. According to the patent, the pencil was made in the usual manner, except that one quarter of length was reserved for holding a piece of prepared India-rubber. This allowed the eraser to stay with the pencil for ease of use.

Pencils contain not only those handy erasers but the writing material as well. We commonly refer to the substance as lead, but it is in fact, graphite and has been since 1564 when a large graphite source was discovered in Borrowdale, England. Before graphite, the pencil wasn’t anything more than a piece of lead. With the introduction of this darker substance, a casing was needed to keep the graphite from breaking.

First the graphite was wrapped in string and finally it made its way inside a wooden casing. They were finally mass produced in Nuremberg, Germany starting in 1662. They were not painted because it was felt that the high quality wood casings were an advantage. The best source of graphite was found in China. The color yellow is a sign of royalty and respect in that country. In order to advertise that one’s pencils contained Chinese or superior graphite, manufacturers started painting them yellow.

Pencils are classified in various ways. The hardness, the blackness, and the fineness of the lead are indicated by letters or numbers, depending on where it is made. There are various types of pencils based on their marking materials (graphite, charcoal, carbon, colored, grease, and watercolor). Pencils are classified by their use (carpenter’s, copying, erasable color, non-reproducing, stenographer’s, and golf pencils). There are four different shapes (triangle, hexagon, round, and bendable). And there is a whole different class by manufacturer, especially based on mechanical pencils.

“Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why there is an eraser on every pencil.” – Japanese proverb

“To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you’re overdoing it.” – Josh Jenkins

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault

“University President: Why is it that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment? Now the Department of Mathematics requires nothing but money for paper, pencils, and erasers…and the Department of Philosophy is better still. It doesn’t even ask for erasers.” – Isaac Asimov

Also on this day, in 1867 America bought Alaska.

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