The pencil is a common cause of minor puncture injuries in young children. The tip of the lead may leave a grey mark inside the skin for years. This led to the old wives’ tale that the lead bits could be passed through the blood vessels into the brain, causing mental retardation in those with such a wound. Of course, pencil “lead” is graphite (carbon) and not the chemical element lead, so it is not poisonous and is harmless if consumed.
The mechanical pencil was invented in Britain in 1822 and by 1873 more than 160 improvements were patented. The first spring-loaded pencil in 1877 was followed by a twist-feed mechanism in 1895 and Tokuji Hayakawa’s screw-based pencil in Japan.
It was introduced as the Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil and later gave its name to Hayakawa’s company: Sharp. At about the same time in America, Charles Keeran developed a ratchet-based pencil that would be the precursor of most of today’s pencils. Clutch pencils use a thicker solid piece of lead and work by pressing down the eraser cap to allow the “claws” at the end to open, which in turn allows the lead to freely drop through the barrel.
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E&EO last updated 180621