A pencil is a graphite stick and clay combination, sometimes with a color pigment, encased mostly in a wooden, cylindrical container. It is usually referred to as a lead pencil, because the deposit discovered that led to the making of the first one was a pile of a mysterious substance thought to be lead. The term became so widely used, that even today many refer to a pencil core as lead. Actually, the material never ever contained lead. This new form was even named 'plumbago', a Latin word for iron ore. Some more information about the invention of the pencil is given in the paragraphs below.
The history of a pencil can be traced to 16th century England, somewhere around 1564. Locals of Seathwaite village, in the north-west county of Cumbria, near Borrowdale, discovered a huge graphite deposit near their sleepy hamlet. Later on, they learned that the hard and compact material could be used to mark their cattle or sheep, in order to distinguish and keep an exact count of the same. This was the first invented form. The natives also figured out how to shape the graphite into small sticks, for ease of use. Since the new substance was soft and delicate when thinned for use, there was a need for a support wrapping or casing for the graphite stick.
Initially, sheep skin or string was used to hold the substance together. The idea of a wood case for the graphite stick was first developed by an Italian couple. They thought of using carpentered juniper wood, made hollow, inserted with the core, and finally compacted in an oval shape. This was the first, crude form of the pencil we know today.
The idea of using wood as the casing for the writing material soon began to gain ground. In an improved version, different types of wood were used to carve two halves into which the graphite stick was inserted, which were then glued together to make a strong and simple enclosure. This method continues to be used even today.
The British had complete monopoly in the manufacture of this stationary in its early days, courtesy, the hard deposit of graphite. This was a one-of-its-kind deposit, because graphite deposits elsewhere in the world contained lot of impurities and had to be crushed to separate those. However, there was no way to make a pencil core from powdered graphite. It was in Germany, in the year 1662, the first attempt to make such cores from powdered graphite, bore success.
Still, the technique was restricted to these two countries. Nicholas Jacques Conte, a French man succeeded in making the core in 1795, using a fired mixture of graphite and clay. The same method was used by another gentleman, Joseph Hardtmuth, from Austria, who in fact, had discovered it 5 years earlier but never popularized his effort.
The manufacturing technique eventually spread throughout the world and is still in use. There are numerous types available today, varying in size, shape, casing material from wood to plastic and of course, different cores, like graphite, carbon, colored core, charcoal, grease, and also watercolor. According to the type of use, some particular varieties are copying pencils, making indelible marks, mechanical ones such as the ones used by architects, the carpenter type with a stronger core for markings, break-proof Stenographer's, and many more.
History has some of its most renowned people as ardent users of a particular brand and type of pencil. Prominent among these were Thomas Edison, who had a special liking for the ones made by a company called Eagle Pencil. Van Gogh, the much acclaimed artist, used the ones made only by the German company, Faber-Castell. John Steinbeck, is in fact, believed to be using 60 pencils a day!
Thus, it can be easily concluded that the invention of the pencil has had a revolutionary effect in the development of society. Today, it plays an important role in our everyday lives, with almost everyone from children to professionals using it, giving it the importance it lacked when invented.