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Adventure in Keswick: The First Pencil

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The man moved back looking suspiciously at the travellers and introduced himself as Addison.  He told the travellers the tale of how the local people had found this black substance underneath the giant oak tree. They called it “black lead” because of the marks it made on paper. He told them how the local villagers were fearful the French would come and steal it. It was such a big discovery that the Queen of England, Elizabeth I was coming to see it he added. Addison then told them how he was perplexed as to how to use the stone because as soon as any pressure was put on it, the rock cracked. 


“Graphite!” exclaimed Teyus. He had just realized that the black rock with silver veins was graphite, the key ingredient in all pencils that we use today. This historical discovery would completely change the way things were written, history was recorded and exams were written for ever more!  Mira & Teyus in Keswick. Old MarketThey accompanied their friend Addison into town to see how people were trying to use these ancient pencils. When they reached the old market in Keswik (which was also one of the oldest in all of England), they found people wrapping pieces of graphite into cloth and binding them with string. The result was a fumbling bundle that did not fit into the hand easily and made it almost useless to write with.  Mira & Teyus in Keswick. Teyus making the pencil.Teyus was looking at a fragile piece of graphite wrapped in a bundle and noticed the piece of balsa log protruding from Hari’s pocket. He took the log from Hari and using the saw function on his multipurpose knife cut 2 pieces with a trough in the middle of each.

He then slid a piece of graphite inside the trough to form a graphite and wood sandwich. If you used a bit of imagination you could see he was trying to get it to look like a modern pencil we’d use today. Unfortunately, the moment he held it vertical the graphite would fall out and break!

Addison saw him breaking the precious graphite and was quite aghast! This was considered such a precious commodity that the Duke had asked Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to send it away so the army could protect it. The French were after this precious black lead and it was a matter of national safety to protect it. 

The travelers were quite amused at the story of the Queen and her troops safeguarding what would essentially be pencils. Teyus then remembered that even today in 2017, about 500 years after this discovery, it would be the only discovery of pure graphite in the history of the world!  Mira & Teyus in Keswick. Mira fixes the pencil. As Teyus continued to fidget with the pencil prototype, looking for a way to keep the graphite in, Mira had grabbed a handful of soil and noticed that it was very smooth and sticky. She rolled it into the shape of a sausage, it didn’t crack and became incredibly shiny. A big smile came to her face. 

“How about we use some of this to hold the graphite?” she suggested. “This soil is extremely high in clay and we could put into the troughs to anchor the graphite in place.”

It was an excellent idea! Both the travellers and Hari were now trying to figure out how to construct a prototype of a pencil with the Balsa wood, clay and graphite. There was some trial and error and it took the whole team to try and manoeuvre everything into place. The graphite had to be handled very carefully as it was fragile, their friend Addison was not going to let them use any more in this experiment!  Mira & Teyus in Keswick. First Pencil made. Finally, they managed to sandwich the wood, clay and graphite so that it all fit together. Now all they had to do was find something to tie it altogether with. Unfortunately, the string that was being used to hold the original pencil bundles together was frayed and unusable.

Looking around, all they could find was some tall grass that the sheep were eating. They pulled some of it out and began to carefully tie it together. They had just created the first pencil ever made!

>> Continue to The Power of Education 

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