The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources


Pens and Pencils

I bet when you take a look at that number two pencil that you use for the SAT’s or the pen set that your family gave you for graduation, you would never guess at the long history of both the pen and pencil.

The first known record of the pencil dates back to 1564 when an Englishman found Graphite embedded in the walls of a mountain named Seathwaite Fell which was located near the current town of Keswick. Although history has forgotten the man’s name, there is proof that pencils soon surfaced in the local area.

The first major step in the production of pencils came when a French scientist named Conte devised and patented a process to produce pencils in 1795. Conte mixed graphite and clay together and fired the mixture in his kiln. The mixture was then pressed into a wooden case. The method used by Conte was very important as it allowed for different thickness of pencils, a fact which is very important to architects and artists both then and now.

The pencil eraser came later when Edward Naime used India rubber to make the first rubbing out devise also know as the rubber. Prior to this people had been using bread crumbs to try to erase the pencil marks.

It is argued the first pen was actually a felt tip and was created in the 1940’s. There is no concrete documentation to prove this, so most historians credit Sidney Rosenthal in 1952 with the first production pen, which he called the Magic Marker. This “pen” was actually a glass bottle with ink in it and a wool wick with a finer point at the opening end. Due to the fact the pen could write on nearly any surface it became extremely popular and further refinements came, with tips and various types and colors of ink.

Today the pen industry is worth over 100 million dollars per year, with models ranging from a fifty-cent Bic disposable to a ten thousand dollar diamond encrusted masterpiece from Harrods department store.