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March 11th is Worship Your Tools Day. Don’t ask me who started it, because I don’t know. But the title caught my eye and a blog is being born. That’s enough for me to celebrate this strange holiday. And since it falls on my usual blogging day, that’s even better. So, you ask, what tools am I going to hold in reverence today?

The lowly pencil.


photo by C.Castle

The pencil was the first writing tool I used to create words. Elementary school didn’t allow their young students to have pens when I went attended. Mom bought a box of yellow, number 2 pencils for each of us girls, and doled them out when the used ones got too small to sharpen. The erasers usually died before the pencils. I remember sharpening them to a crisp point to make a fine line, which didn’t last long under the intense pressure of little, unskilled hands. Today, when we go on trips, I bring home souvenir pencils. Pens, too, because I’m allowed to use them now.

Early pencils were invented in 1564 after a large deposit of graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England.  But the graphite was too soft and brittle to handle and needed a covering. String was the first choice to strengthen the graphite and later hollowed-out wooden sticks were used, creating the wood-cased pencil. The first pencils were flat, much like a carpenter pencils looks today. The first mass-produced pencils were made in 1661 in Nuremberg, Germany. Cabinet maker, William Monroe is credited with making America’s first wooden pencils in 1812. Towards the end of the 19th century more and more pencil manufacturers sprung up.

By the 1890s many manufacturers were painting pencils instead of keeping them natural to allow the quality of the wood to show. This trend began because the L.&C. Hardtmuth Company of Austria-Hungary introduced their new pencil, intended to be the world best and most expensive pencil. To distinguish it from others, they painted it yellow. Soon, other companies followed suit to make their pencils look like the expensive Hardtmuth pencils.


Interesting facts about pencils and pencil users:

  • Thomas Edison had made to order, three-inch long, thicker than  standard pencils containing softer than usual graphite
  • Vladimir Nabokov rewrote everything he ever published, usually several times, by pencil.
  • John Steinbeck used as many as 60 pencils a day. When he wrote his novel East of Eden it took more than 300 pencils to complete the manuscript.
  • Roald Dahl used six pencils a day with yellow casings (only yellow casings would do) to write his books, and he only resharpened them when all six became unusable.
  • Margaret Atwood recommends using pencils on airplanes because pens leak. She suggests …if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”
  • Marilyn Monroe wrote her poetry using pencils. Who knew she was a poet?
  • The average pencil can write 45,000 words.
  • Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” in pencil.
  • Henry David Thoreau used pencils to write Walden.

Have you ever written a book using a pencil?