The sound is a really big part, I think,
of the experience of using a pencil,
and it has this really
[Small thing. Big idea.]
[Caroline Weaver on
The pencil is a very simple object.
It's made of wood
with some layers of paint
an eraser and a core,
which is made out of graphite,
clay and water.
Yeah, it took hundreds
of people over centuries
to come to this design.
And it's that long history
that, to me, makes it
a very perfect object.
The story of the pencil
starts with graphite.
People started finding
really useful applications
for this new substance.
They cut it into small sticks
and wrapped it in string
or sheepskin or paper
and sold it on the streets of London
to be used for writing or for drawing
or, a lot of times,
by farmers and shepherds,
who used it to mark their animals.
Over in France,
Nicolas-Jacques Conté figured out a method
of grinding the graphite,
mixing it with powdered clay
and water to make a paste.
From there, this paste was filled
into a mold and fired in a kiln,
and the result was
a really strong graphite core
that wasn't breakable,
that was smooth, usable --
it was so much better than anything else
that existed at the time,
and to this day, that's the method
that's still used in making pencils.
Meanwhile, over in America,
in Concord, Massachusetts,
it was Henry David Thoreau
who came up with the grading scale
for different hardnesses of pencil.
It was graded one through four,
number two being the ideal
hardness for general use.
The softer the pencil,
the more graphite it had in it,
and the darker and smoother
the line will be.
The firmer the pencil,
the more clay it had in it
and the lighter and finer it will be.
Originally, when pencils were handmade,
they were made round.
There was no easy way to make them,
and it was the Americans
who really mechanized the craft.
A lot of people credit Joseph Dixon
for being one of the first people
to start developing actual machines
to do things like cut wood slats,
cut grooves into the wood,
apply glue to them ...
And they figured out
it was easier and less wasteful
to do a hexagonal pencil,
and so that became the standard.
Since the early days of pencils,
people have loved that they can be erased.
Originally, it was bread crumbs
that were used
to scratch away pencil marks
and later, rubber and pumice.
The attached eraser happened in 1858,
when American stationer
Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil
with an attached eraser,
which really changed the pencil game.
The world's first yellow pencil
was the KOH-I-NOOR 1500.
KOH-I-NOOR did this crazy thing
where they painted this pencil
with 14 coats of yellow paint
and dipped the end in 14-carat gold.
There is a pencil for everyone,
and every pencil has a story.
The Blackwing 602 is famous
for being used by a lot of writers,
especially John Steinbeck
and Vladimir Nabokov.
And then, you have
the Dixon pencil company.
for the Dixon Ticonderoga.
It's an icon,
it's what people think of
when they think of a pencil
and what they think of
when they think of school.
And the pencil's really
a thing that, I think,
the average user
has never thought twice about,
how it's made or why it's made
the way it is,
because it's just always been that way.
In my opinion, there's nothing
that can be done
to make the pencil better than it is.