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The Humble Pencil

By James Stone TBC
  • This week I will be taking a look at the history and different uses of our favourite stationery essential.

  • The Pencil that we know today was first created here in Britain! The end of lead being used as a writing implement began in 1564, after a large amount of graphite was unearthed in Borrowdale. The material was found to leave a much darker mark than its predecessor, but was also much softer. It was so brittle that a protective casing was required so that the graphite could be held. Initially string was wound around the graphite sticks, but eventually it was realized that hollowed out wood was the best solution.

  • There is a fantastic story that during the space race of the 1960’s that NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in the vacuum of space. Whereas the Russian space programme decided that they would save their money and take pencils instead. This is unfortunately a myth. However as the wooden casing of a traditional pencil is flammable, NASA were keen to find an alternative writing instrument, and they did buy 34 mechanical pencils for the meagre price of $128.89 each!

    The “space pen” was in fact developed privately by a company called Fisher, without any financial backing from NASA. The pen could operate at extreme temperatures (from -50 up to +400 degrees Fahrenheit), underwater, and because it used a pressurised nitrogen cartridge to push the ink towards the ballpoint it did not rely upon gravity.

  • A “Pencil test” was developed by Ann Lander in 1971 to test whether women needed to wear a bra or not. She stated that the choice of whether to wear a bra or not should not always be based on sex appeal. The test involved placing a pencil underneath the breast, If the pencil remained where it was the lady in question was advised to wear a bra for support. If the pencil fell to the floor a bra was not recommended, and her mammaries were free to do as they pleased. The test came back to the fore earlier this year due to the popularity of a selfie craze in China

    More recently this test has been adapted to the bum cheek to test how bootylicious a derrière is. It was first used by a BrazilIan cosmetic surgery company to convince potential customers that their butt needs a lift. The test caught on in the wake of the twerking phenomenon, and while both tests lack any scientific support, people seem to have fun with it….