A pencil, containing a solid pigment core within a protective casing, is a common writing implement or art medium. Having a case keeps the pigment from breaking as well as from marking the user’s hand.
Pencils differ from pens because they leave marks by physical abrasion rather than staining the paper. The pigment leaves behind a trail of material that adheres to the sheet of paper or other writing surface. Cores are usually made of graphite mixed with clay to bind it. Graphite is durable and is therefore used for writing and drawing even though it can be removed with an eraser.
There are other types of pencils such as charcoal, used mainly for drawing, colored, often used by teachers for marking corrections. There are also grease pencils which have a softer waxy core. Normally pencils are cased in a thin wooden cylinder which is bonded around the core. However, plastic or paper can also be used for casing. Carving or peeling off the casing is a way of sharpening and exposing the core in order to write.
They stylus was one of the earliest writing instruments. It was commonly used by Egyptians and Romans. The word pencil comes from Latin Word Pencillus which means “little tail”. Some time before 1570 a large deposit of graphite was discovered and was found to be very useful for marking sheep. To this day it remains the only large scale deposit of graphite ever found in solid form. However, due to lack of understanding the discoverers thought it was lead. This lead to many people thinking that pencils contained lead although it was untrue.
Eventually graphite’s usefulness was realized and mines were flooded to keep thieves from taking the valuable material. However, in order to use graphite as a writing tool it needed a case due to its soft nature. The news of the usefulness of these early pencils spread far and wide, attracting the attention of artists all over the known world. Since the large deposit was found in England and it was the purest form of graphite, England maintained a monopoly on pencils until a way of reconstituting the graphite powder from other areas was discovered. Today Keswick, the town near the original graphite block, still makes pencils today. Eventually, Germany, figured out how to make graphite sticks out of powdered graphite.
The Italians were the first to invent wooden holders for the core. Their version was flat, oval, and more compact than today’s pencil. They took two wooden halves, stuck the graphite inside, and glued them together. William Munroe was believed to be the first American to make a pencil. Since Munroe’s way of making pencils was slow, Ebenezer Wood set out to make an automated way of constructing them. He was the first to use a circular saw and to create the octagon-shaped casing we use today.
Over 240,000 pencils were used every day in the US by the end of the 19th century. Now over 14 billion pencils are manufactured worldwide annually.