Aloha readers! “Pencils up! Ready? Begin.” Who doesn’t remember those words?
The pencil — the amazing implement we daily take for granted. Architects take great pride in the type of pencils they use. Law enforcement rely on sketch artists. Artists use a large variety of pencils. Most entertainment media begins with a pencil sketch. A pencil is used daily for crosswords, sudoku and other games/puzzles. It does not run out of batteries and works immediately. So where did this amazing implement begin? (Oh, by-the-way, geek alert! Yep! Okay. We admit it!)
“The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance,” by Henry Petroski, is an excellent study on this very point (pun intended). The pencil’s fascinating and unexpected origins will surely surprise you, as will the varied and important function their very existence has had upon the entirety of humanity.
The pencil’s history extends back thousands of years, but really only found its familiar form in the last century. Prior to this, pencils were not items that were mass-produced as they are today; they were made by smaller manufacturers.
Did you know that 1) Henry David Thoreau’s father was a pencil-maker, and that it was Thoreau himself who pioneered an idea of mixing clay with graphite instead of using lead? 2) Eventually, major countries were competing against each other in attempting to make the best and most pencils, with millions of dollars at stake in who could meet the customer demand, with composition and assembly formulas kept top-secret. Sounds like something out of a best-selling thriller, yet it is all about the pencil!
Very entertaining to read, “The Pencil” will not only expand the way you view your world, it will even cause you to look at that thin composite of graphite and wood with newfound respect!
Ed and Cynthia Justus are owners of The Bookstore in Hanapepe.