Photo: World’s Longest Pencil, 65 Feet in Length, (Kuala Lumpur).
1 There is no risk of lead poisoning if you stab yourself with a pencil because it contains no lead—just a mixture of clay and graphite. Still, pencil wounds carry a risk of infection .
2 Graphite, a crystallized form of carbon, was discovered near Keswick, England, in the mid-16th century. An 18th-century German chemist, A. G. Werner, named it, sensibly enough, from the Greek graphein, “to write.”
3 The word “pencil” derives from the Latin penicillus, which means strangely enough “little tail.”
4 Pencil marks are made when tiny graphite flecks, often just thousandths of an inch wide, stick to the fibres that make up paper.
5 The average pencil holds enough graphite to draw a line about 35 miles long or to write roughly 45,000 words. Who was the lunatic who tested that?
6 French pencil inventors include Nicolas-Jacques Conté, who patented a clay-and-graphite manufacturing process in 1795; Bernard Lassimone, who patented the first pencil sharpener in 1828; and Therry des Estwaux, who invented an improved mechanical sharpener in 1847.
7 French researchers also hit on the idea of using caoutchouc, a vegetable gum now known as rubber, to erase pencil marks. Until then, writers removed mistakes with bread crumbs.
8 Most pencils sold in America today have eraser tips, while those sold in Europe usually have none.
9 In 1861, Eberhard Faber (picured) built the first American mass-production pencil factory in New York City.
10 Pencils were among the basic equipment issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War.
11 The mechanical pencil was patented in 1822. The company founded by its British developers prospered until 1941, when the factory was bombed, presumably by pencil-hating Nazis.
12 More than half of all pencils come from China. In 2004, factories there turned out 10 billion pencils, enough to circle the earth more than 40 times.
13 Pencils can write in zero gravity and so were used on early American and Russian space missions—even though NASA engineers worried about the flammability of wood pencils those concerns inspired Paul Fisher to develop the pressurized Fisher Space Pen in 1965.
14 The world’s largest pencil is a Castell 9000, on display at the manufacturer’s plant near Kuala Lumpur.
Made of Malaysian wood and polymer, it stands 65 feet high.