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Pencil Day

On today's date in 1858, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Hyman Lipman the first patent for a modern pencil with an attached eraser. There had been many changes to the pencil prior to this, and there have been many since. But it is on this anniversary that we celebrate Pencil Day.

It is believed that the first modern pencil was made in England in the sixteenth century, being made soon after the discovery of a large deposit of graphite there. Solid graphite from the deposit was cut into chunks to make the pencils. They became known as lead pencils—just as graphite pencils are known today—even though there was no lead in them. These early pencils were nothing more than a graphite chunk wrapped in string or sheepskin. In the mid-sixteenth century, the graphite began being placed in hollow wooden sticks. The string, skin, or sticks stopped the graphite core from breaking or rubbing off on hands. Sticks were eventually replaced with the wooden casing we find on pencils today.

During the seventeenth century, pencils began being made out of powdered graphite, and soon afterward, clay started being added to alter the hardness of the graphite rod. Pencils were first mass-produced in Germany. It wasn't until after the American Revolution that pencils were made in the United States, and they weren't produced on a mass scale there until the late nineteenth century. Red cedar was the main wood used to make them. Today, incense cedar is the most common wood used to make pencils, with basswood and alder sometimes being used as well.

The thin wood casing is shaped cylindrically, hexagonally, or triangularly. The first pencils were painted yellow because the color was associated with royalty and honor; yellow is still the most common color for pencils. A graphite pencil can write about 45,000 words or a line about 35 miles long. There are many other types of pencils besides graphite. Charcoal, colored, and grease are just a few of the other types of pencils. More than 14 billion pencils are produced around the world annually. Today we celebrate these implements that have helped us draw, write, and color for centuries.

How to Observe Pencil Day

Celebrate by using a pencil to do all your writing today! When using a graphite pencil, make sure to have one topped with an eraser, just like the one that Hyman Lipman patented on today's date. Besides using a graphite pencil, you could use one of many other kinds, such as colored, grease, or charcoal. If you feel like taking your celebration a step further, you could visit the Derwent Pencil Museum.

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