In the 6th century the Romans used tiny brushes or reeds dipped in crude ink for writing. They called these "Penicullus", or "little tails" from which the word "pencil" is derived.
In 1564, a violent storm blew down a large tree in Cumberland, England. Later a mass of black, mineral-like substance was exposed where the tree's huge roots had been. It was black lead or graphite. The local shepherds used pieces to brand their sheep. But enterprising townsmen began cutting it into sticks and sold them as "marking sticks" on London streets. These sticks however, had two defects. They stained the hand and broke easily. To prevent the staining of the hand, a string was tied around the stick.
In 1761, Kasper Faber, a chemist, made pencils from powdered lead, sulphur and antimony. He mixed them with resins, which prevented the pencil stick from breaking. That is how they came to be called lead pencils. Later, in 1970, with the encouragement of Napoleon Bonaparte, Nicolas Jacques Conte, worked on a marking stick which could withstand rough use and vary in gradation. He added clay to inferior graphite and fired the mix in a kiln.
But the credit for the first modern pencil goes to William Monroe who made a machine that could turn out narrow wooden slabs, 15 or 18 cms long. He glued the two sections of wood round the cylinder of moulded graphite to produce cheap pencils. The standard 18cm pencil of today can draw a line 56 km. long, write atleast 45,000 words and survive 17 sharpenings down to a 5cm butt! Today the world uses more than 300 different kinds of pencils.