Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's National Pencil Day

Hymen L. Lipman changed our lives when
he invented a pencil with a built-in eraser.
Today is  National Pencil DayHymen L. Lipman of Philadelphia, Pa (left) was granted a patent on March 30th, 1858, for his pencil with an eraser attached. His drawing for this invention is shown below. In 1862 
Lipman sold his patent for $100,000, though the patent was later invalidated because the pencil and the eraser were each known tools in common use at the time, and Lipman's invention didn't create a new use for these two items. But without his invention we'd all have been fumbling for an eraser, which would no doubt have been "around here somewhere…" every time we tried to do our third grade math homework.
Pencil facts: a single pencil can be used to write out about 45,000 words, or draw a line about 35 miles long; The Star Spangled Banner was written with a pencil; It took more than 300 pencils for John Steinbeck to write his novel East of Eden; Both Thomas Edison and Johnny Carson had special pencils made for themselves.
Edison's pencils were stubby, about three inches long and extra wide, with a softer graphite that wrote darker than the standard ones. Johnny seemed to relieve tension behind the desk at The Tonight Show by tossing and catching pencils, often drumming along with the band during commercial breaks. To avoid any accidents on the set, he had his "pencils" made with erasers on both ends.

Lipman's simple, elegant design.
I looked online for sites that would list historic events for any chosen day of the year and found many, ranging from a cheesy little page with a lot of misspellings and lousy grammar, listing about a dozen events for today, all the way to a page enumerating some 148 events on this day between the years 240 BC and 2013. A combo pencil and eraser was a tool significant enough to be mentioned in each list I found.
Sometime today, put away the laptop and the cell phone, find a pencil somewhere, and use it. Leave technology behind, even for just a moment, and use a pencil! Write a note inviting a friend out for coffee and put it in the mail. Wouldn't that give your friend a fun surprise for a change, instead of the hurried, impersonal feeling of a text or e-mail or voice mail invitation?
Sketch a stick figure selfie of you and your dog sitting on the Town Hall benches licking the first ice cream cone of the season, or some such little event or occasion, and put it on your refrigerator. Draw another one of yourself tossing bread to the seagulls at Herring Cove and send it to your sister in Albuquerque. Whatever your drawing skills might be, she'll be touched to think that you spent a few moments to create something low tech and personal. And remember, 156 years ago today,  this new pencil was the technology. Happy Pencil Day!

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