I am a lead pencil the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all
boys and girls and adults who can read and write.
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; thats all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my
story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery-more so than a tree or
a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted
by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background.
This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace.
This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long
persist without peril. For, as a wise man observed, We are perishing
for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.
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, thats 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 aeroplane
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, doesnt it? Especially when it is
realised that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced
in the USA. each year.
Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye
theres some wood, lacquer, the printed labelling, graphite lead,
a bit of metal, and an eraser. Just as you cannot trace your family tree
back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents.
But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness
and complexity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight
grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all
the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting
and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons
and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining
of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes motors;
the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the states to heavy and
strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls the cookery
and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had
a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!
The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine
the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and
who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto?
These legions among my antecedents.
Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small,
pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These
are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on
their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The
slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making
of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power,
the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers
in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured
the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant
which supplies the mills power!
Dont overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand
in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation from California
Once in the pencil factory $4,000,000 in machinery and building,
all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine each
slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another
machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another
slat atop a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are
mechanically carved from this wood-clinched sandwich.
My lead itself it contains no lead at all is
complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those
who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the
graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks
and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even
the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth and the
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide
is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as
sulfonated tallow animal fats chemically reacted with sulphuric
acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears
as endless extrusions as from a sausage grinder cut to size,
dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase
their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture
which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated
My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all of the ingredients
of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners
of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which
the lacquer is made, a beautiful yellow, involves the skills of more persons
than one can enumerate!
Observe the labelling. Thats a film formed by applying heat to carbon
black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon
black? My bit of metal the ferrule is brass. Think of all
the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to
make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings
on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied?
The complete story of why the centre of my ferrule has no black nickel
on it would take pages to explain.
Then there is my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade
as the plug, the part man uses to erase the errors he makes
with me. An ingredient called factice is what does the erasing.
It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape seed oil from the Dutch
East Indies with sulphur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion,
is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing
and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy, and the pigment
which gives the plug its colour is cadmium sulphide.
No One Knows
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person
on the face of this earth knows how to make me?
Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no
one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may
say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far
off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an
extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isnt a single
person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company,
who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From
the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite
in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither
the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with any more than can the chemist
at the factory or the worker in the oil field-paraffin being a by-product
Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the
chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the
ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the
knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs
his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps,
than does a child in the in first grade. Indeed, there are some among
this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to
use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like
this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how
for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among
No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding: The absence of a master mind, of
anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring
me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find
the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.
It has been said that only God can make a tree. Why do we
agree with this? Isnt it because we realise that we ourselves could
not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in
superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular
configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among
men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in
molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper,
graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in
Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration
of creative human energies-millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally
and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the
absence of any human masterminding! Since only God can make a tree, I
insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions
of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together
to create a tree.
The above is what I meant when writing, If you can become aware
of the miraculousness which I symbolise, you can help save the freedom
mankind is unhappily losing. For, if one is aware that these know-hows
will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and
productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand that
is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding
then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom:
a faith in free men. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once a government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for
instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe
that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely.
And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesnt
know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognises
that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No
individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nations mail delivery
any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil.
Now, in the absence of a faith in free men in the unawareness that
millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate
to satisfy this necessity the individual cannot help but reach
the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men
can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have
a fair case. However, there is testimony, galore; its all about
us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared,
for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine
or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other
things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try,
they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second;
they deliver an event visually and in motion to any persons home
when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore
in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to ones range
or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy;
they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern
Seaboard halfway, around the world for less money than the
governments charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited.
Merely organise society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let societys
legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative
know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men will respond to the
Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple
though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is
a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the