History of Instructional Technology
Activity 8

The History of the Pencil



 
 
 
 

1564
Graphite was discovered.
1795
Graphite and clay were mixed to form the pencil we know today.
2040
The pencil of the future.

 

Related Links to Pencils

 

1564- This is where the story of the graphite pencil begins.  It goes something like this....

    There was a terrible storm in near Borrowdale, England in 1564.  As most bad storms do, it caused some damage to the surrounding area.  An oak tree fell and a group of shepherds in the area found a large graphite deposit.  At first they thought the deposit was coal.  However, it did not burn like they expected.  They then realized that the raw material made dark marks, much darker than the previous lead, and they began to use it to mark sheep.  However, the graphite was soft and brittle, which caused some problems for the people trying to write with it.  The story continues when someone decided to wrap string around the graphite to make it a little stronger.  Eventually, another brain decided that the graphite should be placed in wooden sticks.  The problem was, these wooden sticks had to be hollowed out by hand.  Konrad Gesner of Switzerland, wrote the earliest description of this "pencil" in his Treatise on Fossils.  It shows a picture of this author depicting "a wooden tube holding a piece of graphite." This "Gesner pencil" has a special history because some people believe it was used by Shakespeare.

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1795- I continue the story of the pencil with the discovery of a mixture that uses graphite. 

    In 1795, Nicholas-Jacques Conte of France discovered the process of mixing graphite with clay.  This mixture was then placed in a kiln fire, which produced a superior writing material.  After the kiln fire, strips were cut and placed into wood.  The pencils strength depended on the amount of graphite located in the mixture.  The more graphite that was used, the softer the pencil that would result.  This mixture of graphite and clay is still used in our "lead" pencils of today.

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2040- Pencil Shortage 

    Now let's fast forward to the year 2040.  Wooden pencils as we know them are becoming rare and highly valuable.  Not only are the natural resources used to make wooden pencils diminishing, students are also more apt to using the "Power Pencil".  It appears to most like a mechanical pencil.  However, it has an incredible memory.  It stores the information that is written with it.  This information can be retrieved at any time if needed.  This means students can now have the pencil rewrite any assignment that was written with the pencil.  All they must do is insert the pencil in the the "Power Paper Holder" and program the pencil with what assignment from its memory is needed.  The pencil then writes out the assignment using the same style of handwriting it was originally written in.  Unorganized students love this pencil, since they no longer have to search for lost assignments.  They can now just take out their "Power" supplies and in two to three minutes they will have a new copy.
    There are a few drawbacks to this "Power Pencil" that the company is constantly improving on.  One drawback is the limited memory of the "Power Pencil".  Each pencil can only hold approximately 10 assignments (less if they are lengthy assignments).  Another drawback is the cost.  At the present time each pencil costs $59.95.  This means students must be responsible and not lose their pencil.  Also, the students need the "Power Paper Holder" to make it all work.  This item is more costly at $109.95.  In the future, the company is hoping to improve on all of these drawbacks.

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Related Links - to learn more about the history of the pencil 

Pencils - this tells many interesting facts about pencils

Pencil Pages - good site for collectors

Pencils Across the Curriculum - check out this cute story

Cumberland Pencil Museum - there is actually a museum for pencils

Parker Page - includes the history of writing and writing instruments
 
 

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Last Updated 04--3-01