Who Invented the Pencil?

Some kids would say in jest that Mr. Pencil invented the pencil. However, to correctly answer inquisitive young minds who keep wondering who invented the pencil, here are some facts.

The First Pencil Was a Failure

The first attempt to invent a pencil was not successful. It was made of powdered or pulverized graphite. The result was a poor quality pencil that easily broke. Graphite and clay should be mixed well to produce a proper kind of pencil. This was done by the man who invented the pencil properly. All quality pencil makers today, owe it to the first pencil maker who perfected the right formula for it.

A French Army Officer Invented it

In 1795, a French officer belonging to the army of Napoleon invented and patented the first quality pencil on earth. Nicholas Jacques Conte or simply NJ Conte discovered that ground graphite, when mixed with the right kinds of clay, produced the best lead for pencils. Pencils do not really contain lead. The black thin material in pencils is a mix of graphite, carbon, and clay. NJ Conte, the first pencil maker, turned graphite into powder. Then he mixed it with moist doughs of clay and pressed the thing to make thin sticks. He then cooked it in a kiln. This man who invented the pencil, outdid his German counterparts.

Faber Pencils

Later, the Faber family took it from there and produced quality pencils using the Conte formula. The same formula is used worldwide today. The writing implement was not named after NJ Conte. It was taken from the Latin word, “pencillus”. It means “little tail”, probably referring to the pointed lead tip. In those times, pencillus was used to refer to fine, pointed brushes before the man who invented the pencil came up with the idea.

Wood Casing

The black lead itself is not enough to make for effective and convenient writing. It has to be encased in wood. So, pencil makers produced thin, wooden rods from pine trees or cedar. They cut it into halves and carved out a thin, longitudinal groove where the lead was to be inserted. After the lead was placed in the groove, the two half rods were glued together. The rods were then fed into a shaping and polishing machine. To date, there are 350 different types of pencils. Each type is used for different drawing or writing purposes. They are used from pre-school up to college and they are even used at the professional levels. In fact, people from all walks of life have a need for this indispensable writing material. Some famous pencil users include John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, Van Gogh and Thomas Edison.