For your test, bring a #2 pencil

By Robert Crowe

Is there a #1 pencil? Yep.

There is also a 2 ½, a 3 and a 4.

The higher the number, the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark left on the paper. The #4 is very hard. The #3 is sort-of hard. The #2 is just right, and #1 is soft.

The reason that the #2 is the darling of the academic world is that the marks can be read by electronic scoring devices. The #1 is quite soft and smudges easily and needs frequent sharpening. It is, however, the weapon of choice in manuscript editing because the markings can be seen easily. The numbers three and four are so hard that scoring machines cannot record the mark.

Although they are called “lead pencils,” the sticks actually have no lead in them. Most pencil cores are made of graphite mixed with a clay binder that leaves black marks.

The history of the pencil dates to the 1500s when deposits of graphite were discovered in England. It was in 1560 that the idea of a wooden encasement was implemented.

Although British pencils were used in the early American colonies, it wasn’t until 1812 that pencils were manufactured in the United States. Henry David Thoreau’s father had a pencil factory but the first mass production was by Ebenezer Wood (his real name). By 1870, the Joseph Dixon Company became the world’s largest pencil producer and that was the foundation of what would become the Dixon Ticonderoga Company. By 1900, there were 250,000 pencils used each day in the U.S. Present usage, world-wide, tops 14 billion annually.

My favorite historical development regarding the pencil? It was when they put an eraser on the end.

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