The Fantastic History of Pencils

The Fantastic History of Pencils

Josh Rodriquez, Feature editor

History of Pencils


Pencils have played a huge part in everyone’s everyday lives with school work taxes etc but no one stops to think, Where do pencils come from? This is among other questions most people don’t ask about pencils I will answer with research and hard facts. 


The first sightings of pencils would be found in Rome with what they called a Stylus. The Stylus was the earliest form of a pen, they were actually made of lead and equal types of materials that produce a streak when written on objects. The writing side like most pencils was on one side, people of the ancient world had actually made an eraser that works to remove any form of marks that were made on the wax boards or tablets. The way it was used was by using the Stylus to write down something you wanted to say on a wax board. This wax board was made on a wooden board that almost had the shape of an etchiscketch. On the outline of the board, there was a slightly raised border that resembled the shape of a picture frame, on the inside, there was a thin layer of wax on which the author could draw or write.

Have you ever heard of the pencil with a sense of humor? Well around 2,000 years ago in old London or Londinium there were a few different pencils found each with different encryption. London or Londinium as it was called in 70 CE was a port and river town, there was a river that flowed through the middle of Londinium, and because of this geological attribute, Londinium became a trading hub for the roman empire and everyone else who wanted to gain profit. A traveler had left Londinium for their home of Rome where I’m assuming they had been born and were visiting family and or friends, on their way back they bought whoever they were coming back to in Londinium a few stylus, as far as we know three. The first one read “I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me.” the Second Stylus found reading “I ask if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty.” Now it is speculated that these stylus is from Rome however as of now the only mention of where the traveler had obtained this stylus is from the “City” which has archeologists believing that they did in fact visit Rome. The funny context of the conscripted Stylus is the message, they went to the capital of their empire the great Rome and the only thing they brought back was a few stylus’s with some quotes. An equivalent example would be if you’re from a normal town like Berthoud and that’s where you’ve lived all your life and then suddenly you have a friend that goes to Washinton DC and the only thing they bring you back as a really cheap pillow that says “Washinton DC!”

Moving forward a few thousand years we come close to the idea of the modern pencil. For the past thousand and a half years mankind has been using lead to leave marks on paper or boards. In Borrowdale England back in 1564, a very large graphite deposit was discovered. Now, most people had known what graphite was for a while but because it was hard to find for the average industrialist it wasn’t attempted to be used on a widespread scale. Once this deposit was found people began experimenting with it, they discovered under their experiments that graphite was a soft mineral that needed to be held with a steady hand to be used, Also in experiments, they discovered that Graphite left a darker trail on softer strokes than lead did. So with a combination of a softer texture and a darker trail the graphite pencil had made it to become the modern pencil. In 1820 the number 2 pencil was invented this pencil would be the most popular pencil in the world and would be used for most test-taking in the modern era. 

The pencil was invented by a man named Henery David Thoreau, These pencils were decidedly used as test-taking pencils because of their graphite thickness. The number on the side of the pencil is a measurement of sorts to disclose the thickness of graphite, so the thicker the graphite the stronger and thicker the mark it will leave so schools around the globe decided that the size 2 or the number 2’s pencil was the right graphite density to use for a test. These pencils were pushed out by the masses in the early 1900’s due to a boom in the industry. Because of this boom, the number two pencil and other modern pencils were pushed out by the thousands to be used by students and people alike.


The mechanical pencil


The mechanical pencil is usually the preferred choice for students now days, although it resembles the modern pencil there are a few differences. This pencil you load graphite into the back of the pencil by removing the eraser, then there is usually something you have to push or pump in order to feed the graphite through the pencil where it holds it so you can write with it. Now the question that is surely on everyone’s minds how was the mechanical pencil made? Well the first mechanical pencil was of a rather primitive design made by Conrad Gesner. The idea for the mechanical pencil was there but the only problem was that this pencil had to be sharpened after almost every use. The lead would be pumped through and then you’d have to manually shave of lead or graphite in order to be able to write or draw. 

The first evidence of a mechanical pencil was found on the HMS Pandora wreckage. Because the pencil was found on the Pandora it would be assumed that the mechanical pencil goes back to around 1779 to 1790. 

The Spring mechanical pencil is most closely to what we know about mechanical pencils today where you fed the lead or graphite into the back of the pencil and when pumped out you could write with the pencil without having to worry about sharpening it. This design was created by Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in Britain. In Britain, they made a factory where they mass-produced the mechanical pencil which it was adapted and adapted to the point where there are many different variations of the mechanical pencil.


Pencils are a valuable tool that we as students use in our everyday lives. I think it is important to learn about where pencils are from and who made them help better ourselves and our future. With the knowledge of where pencils came from I do genuinely think that people will think a little bit more about where the pencil came from and just how exciting the history of pencils can be. I would also like to thank everyone who inspired me to write this story, my teacher Dr. Fabiano and my dear pencil who i wanted to grow closer too by learning its culture and its history