Creativity Video Writing

The fascinating history of the pencil ✏️

“The pencil is a very perfect object,” says pencil obsessed Caroline Weaver in this TED video where she explains the history of the pencil. 

The origin of the pencil goes back to the innovative applications of graphite. Farmers and shepherds used graphite sticks wrapped in sheepskin and paper to mark their animals. 

In 1795, French painter Nicolas-Jacques Conté grounded graphite, mixed it with clay and water to make a paste that was then burned in a kiln to be inserted two cylinders of wood. This is the same method for making pencils we still use to this day!

The #2 Pencil

In the mid-American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau came up with the graphite grading scale for hardness in pencils, most notably the number 2 pencil. Number 2 pencils were thought to be the perfect balance of graphite and color. Conversely, Number 4 pencils were firmer — they contained more clay and thus wrote finer lines. 

Years later, America’s Joseph Dixon is widely credited for using machines to produce the first standard hexagonal-shaped pencils. 

The Attached Eraser and Yellow Pencil

Before the eraser, people used bread crumbs and rubber to get rid of marks. In 1858, American stationer Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil with an attached eraser. In 1889, the World’s Fair in Paris introduced the first yellow pencil called the Koh-I-Noor which had 14 coats of yellow paint with the end dipped in 14ct gold. Showing off the original plain wood grains quickly went out of style the iconic yellow pencil we know today was born. 

What an absolute fascinating video! 


Who Made That Built-In Eraser?

“To keep our past failures ever before us would cause us to continue to fail…take out your pencil, rub out the mark and start over again.”

The eraser, an American origin to fit the American mentality of making mistakes and learning from failure.

After all, the right answer is a function of the mistakes you make.

Now, just imagine the computer without the “Delete” button.


“The Last Elephant” by Diem Chau (2012)


No More Pencil Sharpeners: Writing Fragmentation in the Digital Age

Growing up the pencil was always used for math and the pen for just about everything else.  The reasoning was simple:  you were more likely to make a mistake.  Sometimes we took tests without calculators, completely smearing the scrap paper. 

Pencils also required sharpening.  Students would go up to the front of the class and shave their pencil as if they were giving it a haircut.  Some kids made the end tips knife sharp, others left the pencil head a bit rounder.  

The pen relieved much of the pain that came from scrawling with pencil.  The pen’s tip was smoother and made writing rhythmic.  When we ran out of ink, we simply found a replacement pen.  

Then came the computer.  Why go through the trouble of writing something down that will need to be reproduced on the computer?  Nevertheless, students still vacillated between handwriting and typing.  Some people thought better with pen and paper.  

But then came the touch screen mobile and tablet, obviating the need for penmanship.  Instant mobile communications replaced handwriting and grammar.  “You’re” is now “ur” and it’s always lowercase, even at the beginning of a sentence.  

Handwriting will go extinct in about a decade unless the pen goes digital.  Word on the street is that Apple is creating a stylus, recreating the handwriting experience on a digital screen. 

Taking notes with existing stylus models is currently a challenge.  Our digital writing bleeds because can’t keep our wrist and pen on the page at the same time.  

From pencil, pen, Internet-less keyboard, to the hyper connected keyboard of mobile, to the potential reemergence of utensil writing with the digital stylus, writing has been fragmented.  And don’t think that’s the end of it.  With Siri, you may not have to write anything at all.  #dictation