It is the most sophisticated communication device ever created, with its own built-in replacement cartridge and delete feature. No, I’m not talking about the computer, I’m talking about the pencil.
The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving under Napoleon. The key to Conte’s invention was a form of pure carbon called graphite, which the Aztecs had already used as a marker hundreds of years earlier. It was, at first, mistakenly believed to be a form of lead (hence the term “pencil lead”). It was officially relabled graphite in 1789, from the Greek word graphein, meaning “to write.”
The word pencil is older. Derived from the Latin term pencillus, “little tail,” it was first applied to the ink brushes used for writing during the Middle Ages, but was later reassigned to Conte’s marvelous new invention.
Most important of all, however, is a fact known by writers and school children for over two hundred years: the pencil, unlike the computer, provides a unique and irreplaceable form of…