The invention of the pencil-as we know it today, is attributed to Nicolas-Jacques Conté in the year 1795 , at the age of 40 (he was a French aeronaut, chemist, painter and military man). He would be in charge of devising a way to take the graphite (the small lead that goes inside the pencil and that is the one that really paints) that already existed, in a more practical way. The word pencil comes from the Latin word “penicillus”, which means “small tail”, the name of the small brush that the ancient Romans used as a writing instrument.

Graphite had already been invented in 1564 , when a large mine of the material (black coal) was discovered in Borrowdale, England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square bars.


The graphite rods were then inserted into hand-carved wooden supports, forming so-called pencils . For a long time it would be the English who had the monopoly on the production of pencils, since no other pure graphite mines were known and no one had yet found a way to make graphite rods.

The Germans made graphite rods (made from powdered graphite), but they were not practical. It would be in 1795 when Nicolas-Jacques Conté , who we mentioned earlier, patented the modern method of firing graphite powder with clay to make graphite rods for pencils . The problem with graphite was its smoothness, and how difficult it was to write with. Think how annoying it is when the tip of the pencil breaks… well in the past, it happened all the time! Until Nicolas came up with the idea of wrapping a rope around the graphite to strengthen it , coming up with that hollow wooden stick so that we could put the graphite inside and prevent it from breaking so easily. And that is the pencil we know today!

Later the first mass production of pencils would begin, specifically in Nuremberg , Germany, started by Faber-Castell and followed by Steadtler and other companies, brands that are still fully valid today.


Origins of the pencil and other curiosities

who inverted pencils

Philosophers in ancient Rome used a stylus , a thin metal stick made from strips of lead, to scratch off sheets of papyrus or wax tablets. The word pencil, as you already know, derives from the Latin word “penicillus” which means “little tail” and which describes small camel hair ink brushes , which were used for writing before pencils were invented today.

The discovery surprised the locals because they did not know what the material was. It looked like coal, but it didn’t burn! Then they discovered that the raw material could leave dark marks , and much better than the lead they had used until then, and they began to mark sheep with it.


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