NPR recently explored the history of the pencil. What they came up with is a fascinating story, which goes back hundreds of years. In fact graphite, the mineral used in pencils that we still call “lead”, goes back even further — all the way to the very beginning of the universe.
If you have a few spare moments, check out their story and the video below. I don’t think you have to be an office supply geek like us to find it fascinating.
Pencils were originally painted to help mask the low quality of their wood — only the fanciest pencils went unvarnished. But at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, an Austro-Hungarian pencil company unveiled a new luxury pencil. It was made with the finest materials and named Koh-I-Noor after the largest diamond known at that time — a diamond that would soon adorn the British crown. And this finest of pencils was painted yellow — perhaps to honor the empire’s flag. The marketing strategy worked, at first. Yellow came to be associated with quality. But soon, copycats were painting their pencils yellow too.