The humble pencil is, globally, one of the most common tools used to write on paper, and there are a wide range of different types of pencils, but who invented the most widely-seen type of pencil (graphite with wood casing) seen today, and in doing so creating a stereotypical image for a product that is used at home, work, and school?
Although there were early attempts at making a pencils from ancient Egyptians and Romans, and also in the 1500’s, where English farmers used plain graphite to mark sheep. Both were reasonable methods for their purpose, the material on its own would leave marks on the user’s skin and were prone to breaking easily.
In 1795, a French officer belonging to the army of Napoleon invented and patented the first quality pencil on earth. Nicholas Jacques Conte (aka NJ Conte) discovered that ground graphite, when mixed with the right kinds of clay, produced the best lead for pencils. A great myth is that pencils are made of lead, but the thin black material in pencils is actually a mix of graphite, carbon, and clay. NJ Conte, managed to turn this graphite into powder, mixing it with moist doughs of clay and then pressing the materials into thin sticks, which were then ‘cooked’ to make the ‘pencil lead’. The modern wooden casing seen in most original pencils today would soon follow, providing a no-mess and more shatter-resistant protection for the product. The Faber family would soon take on this product into mass production, and the rest is history.
To date, there are 350 different types of pencils, used for a variety of purposes, and fitting different budgets. With a variety of shades and new and creative methods being sold for novelty (e.g. giant, twisty, ect.), it is an ever-expanding product, and one that is used in all walks of life, as it is very difficult to live a lifetime without using one.