The History of the Pencil

Where pencils came from and why we still use them today

Author’s Note: Research is credited to National Day Calendar and

How many of us actually carry a pencil to every class? How many of us even take notes on paper? I don’t think many people ever thought the day would come when laptops are more important in the classroom than a pencil.

Whether or not the pencil is on its way to losing a popularity contest, it is still one of the most valuable assets to grace human history. Millions of books, journals, essays, articles, research papers and other forms of communication and information started out with someone putting pencil to paper.

March 30 is National Pencil Day because everyone owes much of their literacy to this utensil.

Ancient Romans were the first to use a version of our modern pencil. The stylus was a small metal rod used to make very light indents in early forms of paper called papyrus. Many styluses were made of lead, which is what pencils continued to be made of for centuries; although today we use the less-toxic graphite. 

Thousands of years later, in 1662, the first mass-produced pencils were marketed in Nuremberg, Germany. Many immigrants traveling to North America transported their pencils from their homelands, and it was England that shipped their pencils to the early Americans until the Revolutionary War cut off much trade between the two nations.

In 1812, William Monroe, a cabinet maker from Concord, Massachusetts, became the creator of America’s first wood pencils. It wasn’t until the end of the 1800s that the American pencil industry started booming and companies began to compete to create the best product.

It was during this time that pencils were given their trademarked yellow color. Prior to this, pencils were simply wood without any casing, but with American companies using graphite for materials, they wanted a special way to show that their graphite, the best in the world imported from China, was of high value.

The color yellow was a symbol of honor and respect in China. American manufacturers wanted to convey this stature to their customers when they used their pencils and thus began giving their pencils a yellow casing. The tradition continues on to this day.

As for why National Pencil Day is celebrated every year on March 30, this is the anniversary where Hyman Lipman patented the pencil with an eraser attached to the end back in 1858. Before his invention, erasers and pencils were separate devices which, as you can imagine, made the task of writing even more of a hassle. His invention has impacted writing traditions for over 150 years. 

Pencils have been a staple of life across the globe for hundreds of years. Granting this invention their own national holiday is probably the least we can do in appreciation for all they have done for us and the generations before. This is your excuse to add a few pencils to your backpack if you haven’t already.

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