Unexpectedly Intriguing!
August 11, 2011

Leonard Read's famous 1958 essay "I, Pencil" is often used to make the point that no one person really knows how to make something as seemingly simple as a pencil. Excerpting Read's essay:

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that's too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

Discovery's How It's Made describes how pencils get made today, in the following five minute video (HT: Core77):

After having seen the video, you might have a better idea of how a pencil is made once all the parts arrive at where they're made, however the basic premise of Read's essay holds more true than ever, once you realize that today's pencil making incorporates the efforts of literally millions of more people from more places than Read himself ever would have imagined just to produce and deliver the components to today's pencil production facility.

That's not counting all the thousands of small improvements in the actual process of pencil making that have taken place since 1958, which itself was much changed from how it was done a hundred years earlier. Which, in turn, was much different from how it was done a hundred years before that.

And all while making a seemingly simple product that doesn't seem like it's changed all that much for hundreds of years!


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