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Why pencils are yellow!

Pencils have been painted yellow ever since the 1890s. and that bright color isn't just so you can find them on your desk more easily!

The History of Pencils

Early American pencils were made from Eastern Red cedar, a strong splinter-resistant wood that grew in Tennessee and other parts of the south-eastern United States. By the 1900s, pencil manufacturers needed additional sources of wood and turned to California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  There they found Incense-cedar, a species that grew in abundance and made superior pencils.  Californian Incense-cedar soon became the wood of choice for domestic and international pencil makers.

In ancient Rome, scribes wrote on papyrus (an early form of paper) with a thin metal rod called stylus which left a light but readable mark.  Other early styluses were made of lead.  Today we still call the core of a pencil the “lead” even though it is made of non-toxic graphite.

During the 1800s, the best graphite in the world came from China.  American pencil makers wanted a special way to tell people that their pencils contained Chinese graphite, so they began painting their pencils bright yellow.  This is because the color yellow is associated with royalty and respect in China.  The American manufacturers believed that painting their pencils yellow communicated this regal feeling and association with China.

Source: Reid, Andy, Create- Product Design, 2003 , Heinemann Education. 



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