I I IS INEXPENSIVE, INSTANTLY READY, AND ALMOST WEIGHTLESS. IT SITS COMFORTABLY IN THE POCKET. IT NEEDS NO POWER SUPPLY, IT NEVER LEAKS, AND ITS MARKS CAN BE ERASED. CHILDREN LEARN TO WRITE WITH IT, ACCOMPLISHED ARTISTS CREATE MASTERPIECES WITH IT, AND MOST OF US KEEP ONE HANDY FOR JOTTING DOWN NOTES. YES, THE HUMBLE PENCIL IS ONE OF THE MOST AFFORD AND WIDELY USED WRITING INSTRUMENTS IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD.
THE AMAZING STORY OF ITS INVENTION AND DEVELOPMENT
BEGINS WITH A CHANCE DISCOVERY IN RURAL ENGLAND.
I N THE 16th CENTURY. LUMPS OF A VERY STRANGE BLACK SUBSTANCE WERE FOUND BENEATH THE HILLSIDE OF BORROWDALE, A VALLEY IN THE LAKE DISTRICT OF NORTHERN ENGLAND.
Although the mineral looked like coal, it did not burn; and it left a shinny, black. easily erased mark on a writing surface. . Initially the substance a variety of names, ----- black lead, wad, and plumbago, meaning “that which acts like lead.” Because it had a greasy texture, people wrapped chunks of it with sheepskin or short sticks of it with string. No one knows who first thought of putting black lead into wooden holders, but by the I 560’s, primitive pencils had reached the European continent.
Soon black lead was being mined and cxported to meet the demands of artists; and in the 17th ceiitury. it was being umsed practical by eserywhere. At the same time, pencil making experimented with black lead to produce a better writing instrument. Pure and easily extracted, the Borrowdale product became a target of thieves amid black marketers. In respouse, the British Parliament passed a law in 1752 making the theft of’ the material punishable by imprisonment or banishment to a penal colony.
In I 779 , Swedish chemist Carl W Scheele made the surprising discovery that black lead was not lead at all but a soft form of pure carbon. Ten years later German geologist Abraham G. Werner named it graphite, from the Greek gruphein, “to write.” Yes. contrary to their name, lead pencils actually contain no lead at all!
The Pencil Comes of Age
For many years English graphite cornered the pencil-making industry because it was pure enough to use without further processing. Since European graphite was inferior, pencil manufacturers there experimented with ways to improve pencil leads. French engineer Nicolas-Jacques Conté mixed powdered graphite and clay, shaped the mixture into sticks, and fired them in a kiln. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, he was able to make leads that produced different shades of black—a process still in use . Conté patented his discovery in 1795.
In the 19th century, pencil making became big business. Graphite was discovered in a number of places, including Siberia, Germany, and what is now the Czech Republic. In Germany and then in the United States, a number of factories opened up . Mechanization and mass production drove prices down, and by the start of the 20th century, even schoolchildren were using pencils—unpainted ~penny pencils,” as they were called in the United States.
The Modern Pencil
With many billions manufactured world-wide each year, the pencil has heconie a sophisticated, versatile writing and drawing instrument.... A typical wooden pencil can draw.a line 35 miles long and write 45,000 words.
Made of metal or plastic, mechanical (or, propelling) pencils hold thin leads that never need sharpening. In the place of graphite, colored pencils use dyes and pigments that come in dozens of colors.
Versatile, robust, simple, and efficient. the lowly pencil shows no signs of obsolescence. Hence, for years to come, whether at home or at work, you may still hear someone ask, “Does anyone have a pencil?”
July 2007. (Pgs. 13-14)
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