The History Of The Pencil

The History Of The Pencil

The majority of people, mostly students, use pencils every day. From drawing masterpieces to solving crossword puzzles, the use of pencils is endless. It is without a doubt one of the most important innovations since the beginning of time. So, you might be interested in knowing the history of the pencil. This article will help you in this regard.

Although Conrad Gessner first drew a picture of the pencil, it was Nicolas-Jacques Conté who invented the pencil. However, before Nicolas discovered pencils using his Conte method, people used to utilize graphite as pencils. And, after Conte pencils, came several other types of pencils, such as mechanical pencils, Dexin pencils, and so on.

Well, the whole history is not as simple as it sounds. The story of the famous and modest pencil is significantly complicated, spanning a war, several countries, and maybe some smuggling. So, in this article, I will discuss the story of the evolution of the pencil, along with some other information that might be helpful to you.

Who Invented The Pencil?

Nicolas-Jacques Conté
Nicolas-Jacques Conté

In 1795, the pencil was invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, a French army officer, and scientist. He burned a mixture of clay, water, and graphite to create the lead of the pencil. He then placed the solution inside a wooden writing frame.

Well, Nicholas was tasked with finding a substitute for graphite. He finished building the lead in about eight days. Nicholas discovered how to blend crushed graphite with clay, which made the Conte method unique.

His process worked so well that he was able to produce pencils of different toughnesses by just baking the material.

However, the credit for making the first wooden pencil goes to William Munroe. Because he made it using top-notch quality casings, these pencils remained unpainted and natural.

On the other hand, the Thoreau father and son invented a technique to make pencils less fragile and oily. They also pioneered the concept of offering a wide pencil variety, ranging from Number 1 (softest) to Number 4 (hardest). However, the iconic Number 2 pencils were, no doubt, the most widely utilized!

In 1822, the first mechanical pencil was invented by John Isaac Hawkins and Sampson Mordan. S.Mordan & Co. in London produced its ever-pointed pencils but later it was attacked during the Second World War.

However, because of their poor layout, people viewed these mechanical pencils more as luxury items than as professional writing utensils.

The Evolution Of The Pencil: Where It All Began

The word “pencil” comes from “penicillum,” which appears to be a Latin name for “penis.” It also refers to the small, fine-tipped brushes that individuals use to write with. This term was coined because these superfine brushes were made from animal tail hair strands.

After its discovery in the 1500s, graphite was used as machine oil. Then people began to create erasable writing systems. People discovered a chemical structure and properties in 1779.

Eventually, people felt the need to take and write notes with pencils. As a result, sheared and wrapped graphite sticks became popular. The wood pencils were then introduced to the scene. Because they were simple to make, they started out with square leads.

The tiny scraps of pencils were hard to use. As a result, people had to throw it away. So, as a solution, they began crushing the used graphite into powder and later began using this graphite powder to make new pencils.

Binders such as wax, gum, and other chemicals were used to hold the graphite together. The pencil marks, however, lightened as a result of this. Nicholas Conte invented the Conte method in 1795 after a long period of experimentation. And soon, it became common in Europe.

The History Of The Pencil Across Different Timelines

History Of The Pencil
History Of The Pencil

The history of the pencil began with the invention of massive solid graphite in the early sixteenth century. As of now, manufacturers are working on inventing new and distinctive types of pencils.

For centuries, the pencils we use today have undergone significant changes. So, let’s take a look at the history of the pencil over time:

The 16th Century

Locals in Borrowdale, close to Keswick in England’s Lake District, found a vast amount of hard graphite in the early 16th century. Metallurgy and chemistry were at their beginnings at the time. So, people thought it to be a black lead of some kind rather than a carbon form. Thus, they gave it the Latin name “plumbago,” which means lead ore.

Besides, Simonio Bernacotti and Lyndiana Bernacotti invented the first wood pencils in 1560. This was oval-shaped and looked similar to carpentry pencils nowadays. In 1565, Conrad Gessner made the first illustration of a pencil. His drawing depicted graphite encased in wood.

That picture became famous across Europe. But it was in the 1700s that pencils began to take the shape that the world perceives them today.

Well, styluses were made of lead, which was cut to a level and inserted into a wooden handle in the 16th century. People used them for making marks on papyrus, wax-coated scrolls, and parchment, among other things.

During the restoration of one old farmhouse’s roof, Swabian architects discovered a handmade pencil in 1630. A carpenter mistakenly abandoned it there for nearly 300 years while working at that place!

In the year 1662, Staedtler’s Pencil Factory manufactured the modern copies of the very first mass-produced pencils in Germany. Their basic wood pencils were popular at the time. And they used to sell them throughout Europe.

There wasn’t much development in the pencil industry afterwards well throughout the 17th century. Before we would see any development in the world of pencils it was 1812.

The 18th Century

The year 1812 is also noteworthy in the history of the pencil. This was the year when William Munroe manufactured the first wooden pencils in the USA. Furthermore, his pencils influenced other southern producers. Besides, people used these pencils in a variety of sectors.

In 1820 Henry Thoreau invented the first number 2 pencils in the world by substituting clay for wax. He took help from his father’s pencil factory while inventing it. Well, the graphite provided a legible mark. So, they soon became standard school materials in classrooms all around the country.

Joseph Dixon invented a method for mass-producing pencils. He made 132 pencils every minute. His company was the largest trader and buyer of graphite in the world by the year 1870. During the time of the Civil War, everybody, from builders to soldiers, used these pencils.

The famous yellow pencil first appeared at the Paris World Fair in 1889. It symbolized Chinese nobility and respect. These pencils were easier to personalize with commercial messages. So, the demand for these was very high at that time.

The 19th Century

Tokuji Hayakawa designed “the Ever Sharp Pencil” in 1915. It revolutionized the mechanical pencil industry. Moreover, Charles Keeran started developing his unique mechanical pencil model during the same period in America.

During the 1950s, the price of pencils dropped. So, people could buy the pencils at a reasonable price. Thus, they became a popular school supply among students.

Joseph Dixon introduced colorful pencils in 1960. Dixon pencils were bright and colorful to match the exotic shades of the period. These colorful pencils were somewhat more fashionable than the traditional yellow pencil.

Husky pencils were invented in 1970. And, these became popular in schools all over the USA because of their thick barrels. They were easy to use and left thick lines on the page.

Maris Ambats and Josh Reynolds designed mood rings around this time. And, the world became enamored with hue-changing gadgets. Therefore, it wasn’t long before mood pencils came into the picture.

A sort of mechanical pencil was famous throughout the Reagan administration. It looked a lot like a standard number 2 pencil. It combined the classic look of yellow pencils with the modern look of mechanical ones.

Finally, pencils appeared in various sizes and shapes in the 1990s. These were all the craze among teenagers during that period. The vivid, vibrant patterns on these writing tools were just too cool for classrooms!

The 2000s

Custom pencils came in many shapes and sizes at this time. From traditional yellow to those with unusual shapes and bright designs, there are tons of different designs available. The creative possibilities are endless, from enormous pens to color-changing effects!

Even in this era of internet and technology, we have not stopped using pencils. Many people now use digital pencils. These can remove mistakes, mix colors, as well as generate fine details. Moreover, they are compatible with many iPads, iPhones, iOS apps, and also Android devices.

You may also like: History of Colored Pencils


Without pencils, it would have been hard to achieve humanity’s major accomplishments. Now that you have made it to the end of the article, you should have a clear idea regarding the history of the pencil. Many people put in a lot of effort to create the pencil we use today. So let us take a moment to appreciate these individuals for their contributions.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you’ve found this article helpful. Good luck and take care!

Leave a Comment