The Pencil: History Of Design And Circumstance

Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, traces the origins of the pencil by starting with the writing technologies of ancient Greece and Rome, continuing in the 1500s with the discovery of the mineral graphite, and goes through the Industrial Revolution with the development of mass production. He discusses how Henry David Thoreau worked in his father’s pencil factory, inventing techniques for grinding graphite powder and blending different mixtures of graphite, clay, and other substances to produce pencils with varying qualities of darkness and hardness. Petroski shares with us what the common pencil can teach us about design, engineering, and technology.

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