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      F R E Q U E N T L Y       A S K E D       Q U E S T I O N S

      Updated January 2001

      Over the years, I have received many requests for information. Here is a short list of some of the most frequently asked questions. Please feel free to ask - or answer - any questions.

      See also: Pencil Trivia -- Pencil Humor

      1. When was the pencil invented?
      2. Where was the pencil invented?
      3. Who invented the first pencil?
      4. How are pencils made?
      5. Why is the 'lead' so called?
      6. Can one get lead poisoning from pencil lead?
      7. What do the numbers & letters on pencils mean? (ie. #2, #3, B, HB, etc.)
      8. What is a 'carpenter' pencil and why are they shaped so funny?

      When was the pencil invented?
      Some time prior to about 1560, graphite was discovered near Borrowdale, England, supposedly when a large tree was uprooted in a storm, exposing a black substance beneath its roots. The usefulness of graphite as a marking substance was quickly realized. Though the exact date is not known for certain, the year 1565 marks the first record of a pencil consisting of a piece of graphite inserted into a wood shaft, making the first ancestor of today's pencil.

      Where was the pencil invented?
      Since graphite was discovered in England, it is most likely that the first pencils were made in England, though this is not known for certain. The pencil was further developed by European craftsmen.

      Who invented the first pencil?
      It is not known who invented the first pencil. The pencil was first documented in 1565 by Conrad Gesner, and its invention is sometimes attributed to him, though this is unlikely. European craftsman (woodworkers) were the first known pencil manufacturers, and it wasn't until the late 1700's that manufacturing techniques similar to those practiced today were developed.

      How are pencils made?
      Refer to this pictorial for an explanation of how modern pencils are made.

      Why is the 'lead' so called?
      Before the discovery of graphite, soft metals such as lead were often used for writing. One early name for graphite was 'black lead', and the name 'lead' has remained in use.

      Can one get lead poisoning from pencil lead?
      No. The 'lead' in lead pencils is actually graphite, which is a form of carbon and is non-poisonous.

      What do the numbers and letters on pencils mean?
      The numbers or letters refer to the hardness or softness of the lead. Read the article 'Grading Pencils' for more information.

      What is a 'carpenter' pencil and why are they shaped so funny?
      A carpenter pencil is usually a large, flattened pencil used by carpenters. Their shape helps prevent them from rolling. Read the article 'Carpenter's Pencils' for more information.

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