Pencil Hero: Henry Petroski.


Professor Henry Petroski is the author of the monumental The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance and Vesic Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University. He was kind enough to submit to a short email interview about pencils, which we post here for the benefit of all Comrades the world over:

PR: Do you use pencils frequently? If so, what do you usually use them for?

HP: I use pencils all the time. I do not feel full dressed if I do not have a pencil in my pocket. I use pencils for writing notes and reminders to myself, for underlining and making annotations in books, for editing manuscripts, and for virtually all writing that does not explicitly require a pen.

PR: What is your favorite pencil, or some of your favorite models, types or manufacturers?

HP: The pencil I carry with me is a Pentel, Model P205, using 0.5 mm lead. This mechanical pencil has a well-balanced feel, not unlike that of a good-size wood-cased pencil. Because it does not have to be sharpened and carries a good supply of lead in its barrel, I am always ready to write, no matter where I find myself. I like the thinness of the lead and the fact that I do not need a sharpener. When working at my desk, I usually have a variety of soft-lead wood-cased pencils handy. I have no particular favorite—any quality pencil will do. But I do not like to write with inferior pencils—those with scratchy lead or poor quality finishes.

PR: Given its rich history – of which you are certainly the expert – what do you think the future of the pencil will be?

HP: The future of the pencil will be much like its past. It will remain a basic writing implement. I am always encouraged when I check into a nice hotel and find a high-quality pencil rather than a cheap ball-point pen placed beside a notepad. I have also attended many meetings where pencils rather than pens have been provided.

PR: Do you have any words of wisdom for budding pencil enthusiasts?

HP: Look carefully at the pencils you encounter. The best made ones are examples of quality manufacturing that approaches fine craftsmanship. Just because something is mass produced does not mean that it does not have high aesthetic values.

Many thanks go out to Professor Petroski, and we renew the urge for anyone who loves the pencil to check out his very fine volume on our favorite implement of expression.

7 Replies to “Pencil Hero: Henry Petroski.”

  1. Great to see Henry Petroski here. His other books would likely be of interest to PR readers too, esp. The Evolution of Useful Things, on the design of common objects such as the paperclip.

    Years ago, when The Pencil first appeared, I wrote to HP and received a reply in, yes, pencil.

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