Humans have been writing sounds as coherent symbols for over 5500 years, which is a long time to be sure, but as a race it has been suggested we have been around for over 150,000 years; so what did we do with all that? Before a written language was devised the only way to leave messages of warning or preserving stories would have been to create a series of pictures that could be simply drawn and easily deciphered, basically drawing would have been the predominant form of documentation. Evidence suggests that the human race has been using drawings to detail events, religious ceremonies, animals, people, etc. from as far back as 38,800BC, when cave walls were the canvas of choice.
Since then drawings and artistic illustrations have been ever dear to our hearts, and those who have been able to draw for the purpose of recording events and later on for artistic value have always been held in high esteem. Drawings and to an extent writings have been done throughout the ages with a number of different materials such as paints and inks made from crushed minerals, charcoal, ashes, dirt and slate, but all had their pit falls.
Graphite, the material used in pencils today, had been used in drawings since as early as 4BC when it used as one of the minerals involved in creating paint, and evidence suggests that it was also used by the Aztecs as markers several hundred years before its use became widespread. At some point in the 1500’s an enormous graphite deposit was discovered in the north of England, in Cumbria, and the natural deposit was used by the locals for mundane purposes, such as marking their animals, but it did not take long for others to hear about it and start mining it more seriously.
Because of the way it was used to mark animals when the deposit was first discovered people knew the material would make a good tool for writing and drawing. It was due to this that in 1789 graphite actually got its name, which comes from the Ancient Greek word graphein meaning to write or draw. In 1795 what we would now recognise as a modern pencil was created when a French scientist and military officer encased sticks of graphite and clay in a wooden case.
Nowadays pencils are still made in a very similar manner to the way Conte made them, a mixture of graphite and clay crushed into a powder, mixed with water, shaped and then heated in a kiln. The mixture is then dipped in oil or wax to help create a more fluid writing motion when the pencil is eventually put to paper.At no point however has lead ever been used as the writing material in pencils, but lead based paint was used until the middle of the 1900’s as the pencils outer coating. This would have caused serious health issues if the pencil was ever chewed on or sucked, as bits of lead would be able taken into your body and absorbed. Inaccurate reports from the media did not help to stem the belief that the lead was in the coating not the pencils, and only served to reinforce the incorrect stereotype.
A Few Facts