Writing Instrument History - Pencils and Markers

History of Pencils, Erasers, Sharpeners, Markers, Highlighters and Gel Pens

Pencil History

Graphite is a form of carbon, first discovered in the Seathwaite Valley on the side of the mountain Seathwaite Fell in Borrowdale, near Keswick, England, about 1564 by an unknown person. Shortly after this, the first pencils were made in the same area.

The breakthrough in pencil technology came when French chemist Nicolas Conte developed and patented the process used to make pencils in 1795.

He used a mixture of clay and graphite that was fired before it was put in a wooden case. The pencils he made were cylindrical with a slot. The square lead was glued into the slot, and a thin strip of wood was used to fill the rest of the slot. Pencils got their name from the old English word meaning 'brush.' Conte's method of kiln firing powdered graphite and clay allowed pencils to be made to any hardness or softness - very important to artists and draftsmen.

In 1861, Eberhard Faber built the first pencil factory in the United States in New York City.

Eraser History

Charles Marie de la Condamine, a French scientist and explorer, was the first European to bring back the natural substance called "India" rubber. He brought a sample to the Institute de France in Paris in 1736. South American Indian tribes used rubber to making bouncing playing balls and as an adhesive for attaching feathers and other objects to their bodies.

In 1770, the noted scientist Sir Joseph Priestley (discoverer of oxygen) recorded the following, "I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of wiping from paper the mark of black lead pencil." Europeans were rubbing out pencil marks with the small cubes of rubber, the substance that Condamine had brought to Europe from South America.

They called their erasers "peaux de negres". However, rubber was not an easy substance to work with because it went bad very easily -- just like food, rubber would rot. English engineer, Edward Naime is also credited with the creation of the first eraser in 1770. Before rubber, breadcrumbs had been used to erase pencil marks. Naime claims he accidentally picked up a piece of rubber instead of his lump of bread and discovered the possibilities. He went on to sell the new rubbing out devices or rubbers.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear discovered a way to cure rubber and make it a lasting and useable material. He called his process vulcanization, after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. In 1844, Goodyear patented his process. With the better rubber available, erasers became quite common.

The first patent for attaching an eraser to a pencil was issued in 1858 to a man from Philadelphia named Hyman Lipman. This patent was later held to be invalid because it was merely the combination of two things, without a new use.

History of the Pencil Sharpener

At first, penknives were used to sharpen pencils. They got their name from the fact that they were first used to shape feather quills used as early pens.

In 1828, Bernard Lassimone, a French mathematician applied for a patent (French patent #2444) on an invention to sharpen pencils. However, it was not until 1847 that Therry des Estwaux first invented the manual pencil sharpener, as we know it.

John Lee Love of Fall River, MA designed the "Love Sharpener." Love's invention was the very simple, portable pencil sharpener that many artists use. The pencil is put into the opening of the sharpener and rotated by hand, and the shavings stay inside the sharpener. Love's sharpener was patented on November 23, 1897 (U.S. Patent # 594,114). Four years earlier, Love created and patented his first invention, the "Plasterer's Hawk." This device, which is still used today, is a flat square piece of board made of wood or metal, upon which plaster or mortar was placed and then spread by plasterers or masons.

This was patented on July 9, 1895.

One source claims that the Hammacher Schlemmer Company of New York offered the world's first electric pencil sharpener designed by Raymond Loewy, sometime in the early 1940s.

History of Markers and Highlighters

The first marker was probably the felt tip marker, created in the 1940's. It was mainly used for labeling and artistic applications. In 1952, Sidney Rosenthal began marketing his "Magic Marker" which consisted of a glass bottle that held ink and a wool felt wick.

By 1958, marker use was becoming common, and people used it for lettering, labeling, marking packages, and creating posters.

Highlighters and fine-line markers were first seen in the 1970's. Permanent markers also became available around this time. Superfine-points and dry erase markers gained popularity in the 1990's.

The modern fiber tip pen was invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan in 1962. The Avery Dennison Corporation trademarked Hi-Liter® and Marks-A-Lot® in the early '90s. The Hi-Liter® pen, commonly known as a highlighter, is a marking pen which overlays a printed word with a transparent color leaving it legible and emphasized.

In 1991 Binney & Smith introduced a redesigned Magic Marker line that included highlighters and permanent markers.  In 1996, fine point Magic Marker II DryErase markers were introduced for detailed writing and drawing on whiteboards, dry erase boards and glass surfaces.

Gel Pens

Gel Pens were invented by the Sakura Color Products Corp. (Osaka, Japan), who make Gelly Roll pens and was the company that invented gel ink in 1984. The gel ink uses pigments suspended in a water-soluble polymer matrix. They are not transparent like conventional inks, according to Debra A. Schwartz.

According to Sakura, "Years of research resulted in the 1982 introduction of Pigma®, the first water-based pigment ink... Sakura's revolutionary Pigma inks evolved to become the first Gel Ink Rollerball launched as the Gelly Roll pen in 1984."

Sakura also invented a new drawing material which combined oil and pigment.

CRAY-PAS®, the first oil pastel was introduced in 1925.